BCL boss eyes future

Geoff Lawson doesn't like the term telecommunications. Nor does he like to think of his company, BCL, as the 'new Telecom'.

Geoff Lawson doesn't like the term telecommunications. Nor does he like to think of his company, BCL, as the "new Telecom".

It's all communication, he says.

"When you say it people immediately think of dial tones and voice service. We're not interested in that. We're talking about communication in general."

Just to hear Lawson talk about being a communications company at all is something of a surprise. BCL is the transmission arm of TVNZ and sells its services to TV3 and TV4 as well as nearly all of New Zealand's radio stations. Now Lawson is piloting BCL into strange waters and he's going to come up against some very big players. Much as he dislikes the term, Lawson is in the process of recreating BCL as perhaps the ubiquitous telecommunications network provider, pushing Telecom to one side and going where no modern telco wants to go - into the rural sector.

"Television and radio just aren't getting any bigger in New Zealand. Only 35% of our revenue stream comes from TVNZ with the rest coming from other areas and the largest growth area of these is data."

Lawson says to BCL it doesn't matter what the data makes up, be it TV, radio or internet access, as it's all the same to him. "They're just bits. We move them around for people. End of story."

Lawson says the future growth in telecommunications makes it of great interest. Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde believes the telco sector, currently worth $5 billion in New Zealand, is set to triple in value in the next decade. "Data's only a small chunk of that at the moment but it's certainly the fastest growing chunk," says Lawson.

For him the future involves working with other telcos in two distinct regions - provincial and rural New Zealand. "There are 300,000 rural customers alone that are receiving a service that is, shall we say, less than optimal. That doesn't include the provinces and their service is often not much better."

Lawson says the CBDs of the main centres are well catered for with fibre, DSL, short-range wireless options multiplying all the time. "It's rapidly becoming a commodity market and with so many players fighting it out it'll be hard to make a profit." Instead, Lawson has turned the equation on its head and is looking to the sector that most other telcos shun.

But he can't do it alone.

"BCL will become a wholesaler - a carrier's carrier. We'll supplement copper in rural areas rather than replacing it."

But before any of this happens BCL must convince its shareholder that it not only can do it but should be allowed to. That shareholder is, of course, the government.

"Are there any potential problems? No, not from our standpoint. Is the government comfortable with it? Yes, the government is very comfortable with it. It solves a lot of problems for rural and provincial customers," says minister for broadcasting Marion Hobbs. She is extremely happy to see BCL move into the telecommunications market.

"It's taken a wee while and I hope we're not too far behind, and I say let's go for it."

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