23 November, 2012
It's certainly a pleasure to be invited to speak here at the first NetHui South and I'd like to begin by acknowledging InternetNZ for organising this event, and for their on-going work in ensuring that key issues affecting the development of our digital future continue to be prominently and actively debated.
It's definitely refreshing to see a gathering of this type in the South and focusing on rural and provincial New Zealand.
To me, gatherings like this provide an ideal platform to discuss the economic, social and cultural opportunities the Internet provides New Zealand, to challenge existing thinking about how we utilise the connected world and to question what we need to do better.
Those questions are as real for me as the Minister as they will be for each of you and they are the yardstick I use to assess where we are and where we need to be.
I've been Minister for Communications and IT for almost a year now and it's a role I feel tremendously privileged to have. Not only because I am the first woman to hold the portfolio but more importantly because I see it as one of the key platforms for the future prosperity of New Zealand.
Like most things in life the size of the opportunities in this field correlate almost exactly to the scale of the challenges but I have tremendous confidence in the ability of our IT sector to overcome those challenges in a way that not only benefits New Zealand but that creates significant new export opportunities as we continue to show the world the Kiwi ability to devise ingenious, niche solutions to problems no-one else has successfully tackled.
We all recognise that the Internet has become an essential part of our economic and social lives in an amazingly short time. It is the key to many of the most innovative developments, both in New Zealand and around the world. In fact, it is difficult to think back to a world without the Internet and mobile connectivity.
We now take it for granted that we can communicate with family and friends on the other side of the world, in real time and at next to no cost, though apps like Facebook, Twitter or Skype, and we can do all our banking not just online but by mobile phone, choose when and where we want to watch broadcast content and remotely instruct our household devices while at work or on holiday.
Today for me giving a speech like this means writing it on the go, real time adjustments until I step on stage, delivery via a teleprompt app on my iPad, wireless cloud-based back-ups and almost instantaneous posting of the as delivered version via the web and social media immediately after.
But to allow us to do all these things I have just mentioned, we need high-speed telecommunications infrastructure to support our increasing reliance on high technology and content-related industries and we need a well-functioning market for the provision of retail services over that infrastructure.
The starting point of course must be the infrastructure, and Governments around the world are promoting strategies to improve broadband infrastructure, in recognition of the crucial role it plays in the delivery of economic and social gains.
Here in New Zealand it was our view that there was a significant gap between what the market was providing and what we needed it to provide if we were to remain relevant and competitive into the future.
Little more than a year ago the average internet connection speed in New Zealand was a meagre 3.7Mbps, and for much of rural and provincial New Zealand, access was often little better than dial up, if they were connected at all.
We were not preparing our students for life in a digital world and too many families weren't in a position where the potential offered by the internet was a possibility for them.
So, the development of a fibre to the home ultra-fast broadband network, enhanced rural connectivity and next-generation mobile networks and a way to bring them into reach of all New Zealanders are critically important to New Zealand's growth prospects, especially given our sparsely populated country that sits a long way from our major markets.
While we are still in the early days of this massive work programme, ultra-fast broadband is already starting to show hints of what it will mean when fully rolled out.
We are seeing it put our businesses in meeting rooms and in front of customers around the country and around the globe.
We are seeing early uptake schools using fibre to enhance teaching and learning, and ensure our children, anywhere in New Zealand have access to the same information at the same time as their peers around the world.
And it is changing the way our hospitals and medical facilities work, enabling enhanced in-home care and the provision of highly specialised services outside main centres.
A recent Alcatel-Lucent study has found that UFB will radically improve the speed and capacity of the high-speed broadband networks available to New Zealanders.
The study was commissioned to stimulate discussion about what New Zealand can do to ensure that UFB underpins a new wave of ICT innovation, and contribute strongly to New Zealand’s social and economic development.
It is frequently observed that widespread access to broadband drives GDP growth, and the study captures a broad picture of the economic impact of the UFB initiative, projecting GDP growth stemming from the programme of $5.5 billion over 20 years, providing fiscal stimulus far in excess of the Government’s $1.35 billion capital contribution.
And the wider economic benefit to New Zealand end-users of utilising high-speed broadband applications is estimated at $32 billion over 20 years.
Our UFB programme is often compared to Australia's National Broadband Network, with the kiwi approach coming out on top with a number of commentators.
At the end of the day though, a fibre network is infrastructure and while infrastructure is a critical component of growth, it isn't infrastructure itself that drives progress but the ways it can be utilised.
For New Zealand to maximise the potential of high-speed connectivity we need a number of things and chief amongst them is a vibrant and well-functioning ICT sector.
The ICT industry in New Zealand is more significant than many realise and of course the technology it creates touches on almost every major market segment.
The sector is already worth $20 billion a year, employs 40,000 people, and provides $5 billion in yearly export earnings.
The recently released TIN100 report shows our companies have increased their combined revenue by 7 per cent over the past 2 years to $7.28 billion, with the 30 ICT companies within that list growing their combined revenue by 9 per cent last year alone.
If we delve a little deeper, we find that the IT industry is thriving in towns and cities all over the country. In Dunedin, for example, there are already more than 160 IT firms in the city, and last year, the average IT employee created $142,000 in GDP for the city.
Like many parts of New Zealand, it is great to see that Dunedin and the Otago region have created their own Digital Strategies to help keep the industry growing and ensure their residents are well positioned to maximise the potential of high speed connectivity.
I understand deputy mayor Chris Staynes is here today and I want to commend him and his council along with their communities for their work in that regard.
I am also encouraged by plans in both Christchurch and Dunedin for investment in high-tech innovation through the creation of ICT hubs.
In Christchurch's case the innovation precinct and the EPIC centre opened yesterday by my colleague Steven Joyce has from the outset been seen as a key plank of the post-earthquake recovery strategy for the central city being led by CERA.
These hubs have the potential to become technology meccas, supporting local ICT start-ups and attracting IT innovation looking to capitalise on the symbiosis of mass location.
While Auckland and Wellington may be seen by some as the heart of our high-tech sectors, the truth is the South Island showcases some of New Zealand’s best ICT talent and innovation, and I just want to take a moment to mention just two of the many successes, from global success stories to community-led innovation.
Dunedin-based technology firm Animation Research Limited has of course become renowned worldwide for its work in 3D animation – including real-time 3D sports graphics for the America’s Cup, which was the first live 3D animated graphics for sports coverage.
In 2012 they produced a 3D video on the plans for rebuilding Christchurch city for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and a 3D video of the Wynyard Quarter.
I've met with Ian Taylor from Animation Research a number of times and I know first-hand exactly how passionate he is about the industry and supporting others making their way in this field.
In Christchurch, students have developed a mobile app that shows what Christchurch city looked like before the earthquake. This app uses life-sized 3-D models of what the demolished buildings looked like, and this can be useful for those re-building the city, or those trying to remember what it was like there before the earthquake.
We are already starting to see examples of what local communities and industry groups can do to harness the benefits of faster broadband, particularly in the health sector where there are more and more opportunities for local ICT companies and communities to come up with innovative ideas.
For example, a new navigator service is being used on the West Coast that taps into local knowledge and is helping people who live in geographically-isolated regions get fast and effective access to medical care.
Information and high-resolution imaging can now be sent instantly through electronic referrals which would normally take days if sent by post. Once received, the data is assessed and automatically added to a specialised database and becomes part of an electronic care plan.
A computerised aged-care assessment programme is also becoming an invaluable tool in caring for vulnerable older people after the Canterbury earthquakes.
The programme – called interRAI - helps to identify those most in need of help and makes their medical information available to new facilities. The information is also available nationally if the person moves elsewhere in the country.
While the impact and benefits of high-speed broadband are well understood, I want to take a moment to highlight the impact in the rural area.
Faster broadband will make a massive difference for rural communities, especially for farmers who are some of our biggest exporters.
Agriculture is a major building block of the New Zealand economy. The production and processing of agricultural products such as meat, dairy products, wool, fruit, vegetables and wine typically generate about 16 per cent of our annual gross domestic product and employ about 15 per cent of the workforce.
Real-time information is increasingly critical to the on-farm decision-making process, and high-speed broadband is key to that.
Access to farm information at the right time and the right place is imperative for making the right decisions.
GPS technology embedded in farm machinery means absolute precision in cultivation and fertiliser use, lowering costs and minimising the environmental impact.
Systems are being developed that use pond and soil monitors to help farmers manage their effluent and water use, while satellite mapping technology can show pasture growth, allowing for maximised production and animal welfare.
So for me the focus for this year has been on laying the foundations for New Zealand’s future in fibre by starting the UFB and RBI build. Our next big event in the Communications and IT portfolio is the release of the digital dividend radio spectrum freed up by the switchover to digital television.
The spectrum will allow the building of fourth-generation mobile LTE networks, enabling mobile data access at peak speeds that are about the equivalent of our UFB network throughout both the UFB and RBI coverage areas.
Plans for re-allocation of the spectrum are well underway and we are on track to have the allocation completed by the time the spectrum is available nationally.
On the back of that we have been continuing our work supporting increased digital access and literacy through working with the education and tertiary sectors and though programmes such as Computers in Homes, Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa and the Computer Club House. We have also created Nga Pu Waea to ensure Maori are well positioned to take part in our digital future at all levels.
On top of that we have a strong focus on consumer protections within the sector. Building on our work over the last term to regulate mobile termination rates, we are now reaching the conclusion of our programme to bring down Trans-Tasman international roaming charges and I have instructed officials to begin a programme of work focused on ensuring retail broadband packages are easy to understand and readily comparable for all users regardless of their level of computer savvy. So it's a big programme of work we have in front of us.
Looking to the future can I also mention what has been called the Big Data Revolution.
It has been said that the next generation of scientific discovery will be data-driven discovery, as previously unrecognised patterns are discovered by analysing massive data sets.
The world already creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day, and I fully expect to see New Zealand firms at the forefront of the new industries that capitalise on this big data revolution.
Before I finish, I want to talk briefly about the International Telecommunication Regulations that will be reviewed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications next month.
As you may know, the Regulations are a UN-level treaty which sets the rules for connecting telecommunications networks across the world.
Some of you may not have heard of this conference – a treaty like this doesn’t usually capture the public’s attention – but it has been dubbed by some as the most important meeting you’ve never heard of and I think it is worth taking a moment more of your time to set out New Zealand's position going into this conference.
The ITR's has existed since the time of the telegraph, and have largely been superseded by commercial arrangements. They haven't been reviewed for 20 years, and there are naturally some areas where the language needs to be updated to ensure the regulations continue to support an efficient and innovative telecommunications environment.
The key debate though will focus around two sets of proposals for including the Internet in the treaty – proposals that focus on the management of the network through matters such as IP allocation, routing, and address registries; and proposals that focus on control of content, spam, and security.
It is my view that these changes would be unhelpful, are unwarranted and could represent a significant threat to innovation and free and open debate.
The existing regulations are sufficiently high-level that they have managed to be broadly effective in the face of the growth of the Internet and telecommunications industry changes over the past 20 years.
Our domestic regulatory framework needs to support the industry to develop and provide faster broadband services and applications, and it is important the international regulatory framework supports this also.
An open and rapidly evolving Internet is an important driver of economic growth and innovation. The current multi-stakeholder approach to managing the Internet – through agencies such as ICANN, the Internet Society, and the Internet Engineering Taskforce supports this.
It enables stakeholders from government, academia, business, and the wider internet community to have input into how this is managed and it is flexible enough to cope with changes in technology.
For these reasons, New Zealand will be one of a number of countries pushing to keep control of the Internet out of the International Telecommunications Regulations.
So to finish off, I want to again thank InternetNZ for organising this event and ensuring the debate around such important matters isn't the sole domain of our larger centres. Some of the biggest gains from improving our connectivity will be felt in areas outside the main cities and it is vital that the voices of rural and provincial New Zealand be at the heart of ICT development into the future.