Communications minister Stephen Joyce comes across, first and foremost, as a pragmatist. His priority is delivering National’s broadband strategy but not without a caveat: “You’ve got to get value for money”.
“That’s the whole drive we have to get into with government. There’s a sense of it having been a bit absent in the debate.”
The transformation will be into fast broadband, he says.
“You want to get ahead of the curve but you’ve got to get value for money. That’s what’s going to drive us out of the recession.”
The government’s election promise was to spend $1.5 billion delivering – in partnership with the private sector – fast broadband to up to 75% of the country over six years.
“We’ve got a clear set of objectives,” Joyce says. “We’re at the initial stages of hearing informally from the industry. I hope to be in a position to progress the discussion with the industry early next year.
“We’ll make a decision on the broadband infrastructure fund at the same time.”
Joyce says he is focusing on performance rather than technical drivers, which seems appropriate given two network projects funded by the previous government are now in strife and under review, the Government Shared Network and KAREN.
A departmental briefing paper (pdf) released late last week reveals the issues the new ICT minister will have to address. The primarily issue is boosting productivity.
"The New Zealand economy has performed well over the past decade, with GDP per capita levels continuing to improve slowly compared with the OECD average," the paper says. "However, a large proportion of New Zealand’s recent economic growth has been driven by increases in labour utilisation, which is not a sustainable source of long term growth. Future growth will increasingly need to be derived from increases in productivity."
It says to boost productivity, telecommunications and broadband investment has to be promoted to address gaps in infrastructure and deliver new and improved services regulatory challenges posed by new technologies and convergence have to be addressed and the development of digital content, digital capability and cybersecurity and safety have to be promoted.
Joyce says his second priority is rural broadband.
“We’ll talk about that in the New Year.”
Other issues to be addressed include the controversial Section 92 of the Copyright Act, and the Telecom Service Obligation.
“That’s not so urgent,” he says.
The Ministry of Economic Development is “doing work around” the international stocktake, and he will then work through its advice. An advisory group is likely to be set up subsequently.
“We need to work out where the gaps are.”
He says it is too early to comment about the Government Shared Network till he sees a report called for from the State Services Commission.
Joyce made his money in radio, selling Radio Works to Canadian company Canwest in 2000-01. For the past two years he has been chief executive of Jasons Travel Media where he became familiar with web development.
In an earlier interview with the New Zealand Herald he said the web would ultimately be just another distribution channel.
“It’s all about people and ideas and delivering what people want,” he said.
His experience in business over 20 years has led Joyce to be wary or large bespoke developments.
“I have a natural aversion to bespoke solutions. The trouble is you have to carry all the development costs. Call it a healthy skepticism.”
National's election win is already having an impact in the bureaucracy, it seems. The briefing paper says the communications vote’s overall budget is forecast to remain at
$89.5 million for 2009/10.
However, in line with National policy for state services, "the Ministry is reviewing all vote expenditure it has responsibility for, and is looking at specific opportunities to improve the cost effectiveness of delivering the Government's priorities. This includes identifying any areas where savings might be considered."