22 Dec 2014
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UFB top of the agenda for Amy Adam's second term

By Heather Wright

Now in her second term as Minister of Communications, Amy Adams chats to Heather Wright about her plans for this term, UFB and why she lobbied for the broadcasting portfolio.

Amy Adams is concerned about ultrafast broadband.

It’s not a concern about the actual UFB roll-out – she’s happy with how that’s progressing and keen to stress that uptake, which recently passed 10%, is ahead of target. 

But New Zealand’s minister of communications is concerned that Kiwi small businesses aren’t thinking enough about what the digital world could mean for them.

“I am concerned that some small businesses are not even thinking about their options for the digital world,” she says. “Sometimes you’ve got to move forward just to stay in the same place, and the dress shop on the corner is now competing with dress shops all over the world.

“Standing still could mean some of New Zealand’s small businesses are actually going backwards.” It is, she says, partly an issue of educating the market about the benefits – something she believes resellers can help with.

Adams, who has returned for a second term as Minister of Communications, says she’s ‘delighted’ to have retained the communications portfolio.

She says her first priority is the continuation of the UFB and rural broadband initiative (RBI) rollouts, and developing policy for the new phases of the projects, announced in the lead up to the election.

Also top of the priority list, she says is increased cellular coverage under 4G and black spot coverage.

Adams has always been adamant that UFB isn’t simply about faster access to email and services we already have. A passionate advocate of the benefits technology can bring to all areas of New Zealand society, she’s keen to see new retail offerings which will excite the market and provide new ways to access entertainment, content and services.

“At last count we had more than 80 retail providers of [UFB] products, and I think you may see some consolidation there, actually. All of the big players are in the market with fibre offerings and we are getting market penetration.

“The challenge now is the third leg of getting content that maximises the value of those higher speeds, rather than just loading pages faster.

“We’ve got the infrastructure and retail connectivity and devices well in hand, now it’s the content, which is developing.”

She says as 4K televisions and high definition interfaces become more prevalent, we will see new content taking advantage of the higher speeds UFB brings.

And with that content, she says, will come an easier sell for resellers, who will be able to show customers more clearly the benefits to be gained through UFB.

“It’s always hard for someone to understand why they need something if they haven’t got it. But once they have it...

“It’s not about selling a faster pipe, it’s about the benefits of the content [which will come].”

She’s particularly keen to see those small businesses getting onboard with the digital revolution.

“Whether they’re a farmer, hair dresser or corner store, they need to be thinking about how the digital world opens up opportunities for them,” she says, adding that the government needs to ‘support and encourage and make sure we’re not getting in the way’ of that innovation and opportunity.

She’s keen to see a cross government strategy to support and encourage not just uptake, but the opportunities the digital world offers to all sectors of New Zealand society.

Adams says she’s already seeing enhanced use of video conferencing facilities allowing organisations with remote offices to operate much more as a centralised whole or to work globally without having to fly anywhere.

Small niche players are also using UFB to quickly and easily get into the world market, she says. “They’re using core technologies we’re already well versed in, but they’re using it more extensively and aggressively.”

Synergies Adams, who won her Selwyn seat with the largest majority seen in this election – a 18,665 vote majority – has added the broadcasting and justice portfolios to her list this term. 

She says she lobbied to gain the broadcasting portfolio, believing the synergies between communications and broadcasting make it a good move to have one minister responsible for both.

“Coming into the role this time, I made no bones about the fact I lobbied the prime minister for broadcasting and communications to be together,” says Adams.

“One of the core things I want to move into this term is developing more government setting and regulatory models around the increasingly converged industries of traditional broadcasting and online content.”

Having the two portfolios under one minister allows them to drive the changes she believes will be required as the two platforms continue to converge – something she says is a key priority for her going forward.

“We need to make sure the regulatory and government framework is better aligned in that broadcasting and content arena.”

Adams says while government shouldn’t dictate how business models develop, it needs to ensure there is flexibility in those models and customer protection, and not ‘ridiculous levels of bureaucracy’.

She says the justice portfolio also interlinks with some of the communications work, thanks to issues like global jurisdictions, cyber crime, cyber bullying and copyright issues, all of which need to be addressed.

Asked what she thought of the recent publicity over Slingshot – and later Orcon’s – Global Mode offering to avoid geo-blocking, Adams says she believes it’s a response to what society increasingly sees as arbitrary borders.

“Whether right or wrong, the generation growing up now don’t understand why they can’t get any content they want, if they want to pay for it. They don’t understand the traditional way of owners holding intellectual property and having the ultimate authority as to what markets it will be available in and so on. 

“We’re moving into a world where geo-location seems a bit fictional and people don’t understand why they can’t access what they want to.”

Especially, she notes, when the issue isn’t about piracy – ‘They are willing to pay for it’.

Adams says her personal view is that corporations need to think about different business models.

“Geoblocking, while legal, will come under increased pressure as people look to find ways around it.”

Companies will be forced to use legal pressure to enforce the geoblocking – or rethink their business model.

“It’s like the music industry. It was all around selling CDs though authorised distributors. But that model has changed – it’s easy, quick and cheap to download from online and has moved to a high volume, low cost model.”

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