Top-down TUANZ collides with bottom-up Forum

Coordination is a logical government task, says TUANZ CEO Ernie Newman

The Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand’s top-down plan for a national digital architecture coordinated by a new digital ministry, announced last week, could be headed for a collision with the Digital Development Council’s industry-driven approach.

On the one hand, the Digital Development Council and Forum is offering a participatory plan arising from a community-run body such as the Forum while, on the other, TUANZ is suggesting a new government agency to coordinate the National Digital Architecture (NDA).

TUANZ points to the Singapore government’s Infocomm Development Authority as a model, while the DDC and DDF emphasise “cutting the apron-strings” to government.

However, DDC executive director Paul Alexander is playing down the differences between the two suggestions, saying the aims of a connectivity plan and the NDA are “complementary”. Alexander suggests that there is room for both approaches to work together.

TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman says the DDC connectivity national plan and TUANZ’s National Digital Architecture proposal are “two different approaches with some slight overlap”.

“It doesn’t represent a divergence of views,” he says.

Investment and competition in broadband needs to come bottom-up from many sources, but coordination among them is also required. It’s logical for a government body to take on that task, he says.

“You could argue” that the Digital Development Forum and Council, independent of government apron-strings, should perform some of this co-ordinating role, he concedes, “but you’ll quickly get into matters of competition and regulation. Isn’t that what governments are for?”

The Road Code is written by the transport authority, not the Automobile Association, he says, by way of analogy.

“This is not a call for a great heavy-handed stultifying National Plan,” he says, but coordination is necessary to avoid conflict and inefficiencies.

The Digital Development Council sees a “connectivity national plan” as one possible initiative that it could coordinate. There is clear support for more coordinated work on connectivity across the country, says a document signed by DDC chair Fran Wilde.

It summarises the ideas that emerged from the first meeting of the Digital Development Forum, which will guide the council in its work programme.

The national plan has points of similarity and difference with TUANZ’s suggestion of a National Digital Architecture (NDA, see page 9). TUANZ is a member of the DDC.

Alexander points to initiatives already arising from local and central government, such as the interactive broadband map, a plan for “smart procurement” of communications gear for the health and education sectors, co-ordinated by the State Services Commission, the Research and Education Advanced Network NZ body (REANNZ) and the ministries of education and health, and a “broadband-friendly protocol” being evolved among local authorities to ease Resource Management Act approval and other administrative procedures for networks that cross local government boundaries.

All this is already in train, he says, and it would be unwise to ignore such top-down incentives in any national plan.

But as for what the DDC and its member organisations might want an incoming government to do, “I’d prefer not to comment”, he said, two days before the election.

The point of the national connectivity plan is to ensure that local and regional networks connect at a physical level and coordinate at an administrative level; that duplication of effort is avoided, and that the lessons of experience in broadband implementation are passed around, Alexander says.

Wilde says the Forum meeting also showed a desire to expose and publicise practical examples [of ICT implementation to which businesses can relate directly — “successful use of technology or new business models that add value”.

Digital literacy was identified as another priority.

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