Election wish list for a digital economy


Dear politicians,

You’re heading into an election cycle (actually, if I think about it, you’re always in an election cycle) so here are some things we at TUANZ would like to see in your policy portfolio.

They’re in no particular order and we’ve mentioned some of them before but it’s worth getting them all in one list for you to peruse.

1: International cable made a priority

Let’s be blunt – there’s no capacity problem on the Southern Cross cable, and as a user of international capacity New Zealand isn’t that big a customer. But we’d like to see the next government offer a significant amount of support for any new cable operator because more cables mean more choice and more opportunity for the broader ICT industry.

We’d like to see New Zealand become a regional hub for content and in order to do that we need to have more cables. NZ to Sydney, NZ to LA, NZ to Japan, NZ to South Africa, anywhere and everywhere. That all costs money and it’s the sort of “roads of future significance” spend that only a government can drive.

Our potential in the digital economy can only be achieved if we have the connections to the rest of the world and that means stepping up. I’d be looking for at least $100m of commitment in one form or another to make a second and third cables a reality.

2: Commerce Commission given back its role as regulator

This is essential. Stuffing about with our regulator means a lack of investor confidence and that means we as an economy stall in the market.

An independent regulator, working to a set of rules that we all know about in advance is the only way to achieve investor confidence in the sector. You mess with that role at your peril – customers don’t like it, investors don’t like it and the participants in the industry don’t like it at all. It’s poor practice and should be shunned.

3: ICT training emphasis increased – ICT courses added to schedule of those we value

We need to encourage our youth to take up the ICT skills we’ll need to build this digital economy. At the moment there is little emphasis placed on any of the IT or telco related disciplines and that has to change. Government needs to signal that it wants more computer science students, but also designers, network managers, even cable layers and jointers. We don’t have the resources in New Zealand today to roll out the UFB efficiently, if Chorus’s costs are anything to go by, and part of that is because of the lack of emphasis on this sector in the education market.

Government should make it easy for the kids to pick up these skills and to realise that ICT is a viable career choice for them.

4: : Support for Pt England/Manaiakalani Trust deployment on broad scale

All of which starts at a much earlier point in the education system than we have today.

One Google software engineer discovered Vietnamese primary school children learning the basics of coding at age nine. The story of Vietnam’s move into ICT is a compelling one and while we’d probably struggle to reach the level they have today, we have a tremendous opportunity to learn from both the Vietnamese example and from our own Pt England Primary School.

As you know, Pt England equips its older children with netbooks and ensures that all classes make use of these devices as an integrated part of the curriculum. The results are astonishing, yet we still have not rolled out a national programme to encourage this kind of thinking.

That is the role for the Ministry of Education and I’d like to see the next government take the Pt England model and roll it out nationwide.

Don’t forget, Pt England is a Decile 1 school – its parents are among some of the poorest in New Zealand, yet they realise the benefits of these devices and can see the improvement in their children’s education. It’s time we all got on board.

5: Government as the country’s largest buyer of ICT

No other sector buys as much technology as the government, in all its forms. Why aren’t we encouraging small New Zealand businesses to bid for contracts? Why isn’t there a clause in every government tender that says New Zealand companies get priority? Everyone else favours their own products, why are we so shy about it?

One.Govt is the government project to streamline the tendering process, yet all too often I hear horror stories of local developers being shut out of the process.

Take the IRD computer system as an example. The figure of $1.5bn has been bandied about – an astonishing figure – but imagine what that spend could do to the local software industry if it was spent on New Zealand owned and operated companies. Wouldn’t that give us a kick start like nothing we’ve ever seen? Start talking to the NZ Rise guys to find out how to encourage their members.

6: Content inquiry

It’s high time the government of the day realise the elephant in the UFB room isn’t the price of copper but the lack of high bandwidth services that consumers want.

Currently we have two or three relatively small players offering content locally and that’s not enough to drive demand. We need to see if there are any impediments to providing content online, and we need government to get in behind this key driver for uptake.

6: UFB review

We need to understand whether this project is working as it should, whether the right governance structure is in place and whether the whole project is being gamed. Currently we face cost blow-outs, low uptake, expensive and unpleasant installation processes and a raft of other issues that limit both consumer and retail providers’ interest in the UFB.

It’s too important a project to be allowed to glide gently off the rails like this – we need to make sure the UFB delivers on its potential.

7: RBI review

Similarly, we cannot allow rural New Zealand to become a backwater. It’s high time we started talking about RBI 2.0 and what that means.

Under today’s regime fully one quarter of the population won’t ever get fibre to the home. Of all the countries in the world -  dependent as we are on the primary sector for our income – we need to solve this problem. Cost is a major issue, naturally, but we can’t rest on our laurels with a two-tier internet where I can get 100Mbit/s symmetrical but the backbone of the economy has to make do with a peak speed of 5Mbit/s.

89: Regional economic development plan off back of UFB and RBI

We need to encourage people to move to New Zealand and we need to encourage more New Zealanders to live anywhere but Auckland.

I say this as a JAFA and as an import. I’m here in the city of sails (don’t mention the sailing) because that’s where the work is, but for most of us knowledge workers we could and should be based elsewhere.

The UFB and RBI should mean we can all work from Hamilton, Whangarei, Whanganui, Invercargil or just about anywhere else we care to name. Coromandel springs to mind. Let us dream of what might be seen in Johnsonville and Geraldine, because we run the risk of becoming a giant version of the smaller Pacific Island nations – one city and a collection of under-resourced villages.

10: Reform of infrastructure consent process

To build this shiny future we need a shiny network and all too often I hear about projects being delayed because of problems with the consent process.

Roads are supposed to be utility corridors, yet all too often the roads get dug up and re-laid without any thought given to UFB deployment.

Cellphone towers are in desperate short supply in rural New Zealand yet in urban centres deployment can be held up by local NIMBYs and their unsupported science of fear.

We need to grow up, realise the benefits these technologies bring, and make them a priority.

Ten items designed to raise our standard of living and to ensure you get at least one more vote (mine) if not a few more besides.

What else would you like to see in a political party’s ICT policy?