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Swain Address to Business Information in Action

Hon Paul Swain Speech
Address to Business Information in Action
Telecommunications Industry Reform Conference
9.00am James Cook Centra - Wellington

I've been asked to talk to you today about the government's inquiry into telecommunications. As you will be aware I commissioned that inquiry shortly after the election and it reported back to me earlier last month.

I have not made any substantive comment on either the proceedings of the inquiry or on its subsequent report and I won't be telling you today what the government's response will be – that will be formally announced in mid-December.

However, what I am signalling today is that there will be change in the way the telecommunications industry operates in New Zealand. That we will be guided by the general principle of "as much market as possible, as much government as necessary." And that we will be wanting investors to decide their future in the telecommunications industry in New Zealand on the basis of innovation and return on capital rather than outguessing government regulation.

What I will be announcing will be world leading telecommunications regulatory reform. I am certain that the government's announcements will be seen to be at the leading edge of this international industry and I would expect that people will be coming down here, to this part of the world, to learn about what we're doing.

Government policy in this area is not just about the telecommunications industry, it is about getting the platform right for the new economy. Getting that platform right is the fundamental issue for me as the Communications Minister.

The telecommunications inquiry team put in seven months of intense work on the report and came out with a set of key recommendations for changes to the regulatory regime.

These were:
 An emphasis on commecial negotiations and industry self-management.
 Establishment of an industry forum as a focus for the industry's development of codes of practice.
 A list of regulated services which have rules governing their supply, and a list of those that could be regulated if the industry can't resolve them over time.
 The freedom for parties to reach agreement on terms for regulated services, including pricing.
 An open and transparent process for determining whether services should be regulated – or cease to be regulated.
 The establishment of a stand-alone regulator – an Electronic Communications Commissioner – to rule on industry disputes when necessary.
 A swift and transparent dispute resolution procedure.
 A better defined 'kiwi share' service obligation – and maintaining free local calls for residential voice and low-speed date acalls.
 A four yearly review of Telecom's kiwi share obligations and
 An Information Society Initiative to ensure broadband services become as widely available as possible, and to facilitate full participation by New Zealanders in the information economy.

We may accept all of these recommendations, some or none of them. As I said I intend making that response before Christmas, and I want to get any necessary legislative changes under way by then as well.

This government is commited to New Zealand's success in the knowledge economy. The inquiry is one of several initiatives we are running to achieve this. There are a number of other key elements in this - let me touch on some of them briefly.

E-commerce Summit and Strategy
You may be aware that the government recently hosted an e-commerce summit in Auckland. At that summit we presented the government's e-commerce strategy and we have been gathering feedback on that strategy since.

The e-commerce strategy has a vision at its core – that vision is for New Zealand to be world class in embracing electronic commerce for competitive advantage.

In a nutshell the strategy has three key themes – these are that the government has to provide a vision and leadership, that we have to build the country's e-commerce capability and that we have to ensure there is an enabling regulatory environment.

We've started government work on this through areas like the e-commerce summit and strategy. Next year I'll be taking the strategy forward by a series of regional tours, tightening up the targets in a number of areas and enabling a team of private sector people to oversee its implementation. We'll be commissioning better research so that we can set more realistic targets for e-commerce takeup among small to medium sized businesses.

E-government
The government has an e-government programme in place, with e-procurement being a priority. The State Services Commission has an e-government unit that has been up and running since July. Already it has identified a range of projects and set targets for rollout.

The government is committed to using online technologies to deliver better quality, cheaper and faster services to its citizens, as well as providing opportunities for New Zealand businesses.

Capability is being tackled through programmes such as Trade New Zealand, Industry New Zealand and the BIZ programme and we're looking at immigration rules to attract skilled workers here.
Steps like the Telecommunications Inquiry, development of an e-commerce code for consumer protection and the Electronic Transactions Bill are helping get the rules right.
The Electronic Transactions Bill was introduced in Parliament last week, the intent of the Bill is to place electronic transactions on the same footing as paper-based transactions. It has now been referred to the Commerce Select Committee for deliberation.

At the same time I am committed to progressing computer crime legislation, which includes anti-hacking legislation, and I am determined that this law change will be before the select committee in a few weeks time.

Conclusion

The key to our future is a proactive government in partnership with the private sector. I've spoken about what government is going to do, but in the end it is critical that government and the private sector work together to achieve the best possible outcome for all New Zealanders.

I hope you will be supportive of the government policy announcements in mid-December I look forward to working with you next year to ensure that we have an innovative, world leading telecommunications investment strategy in New Zealand that takes us out into the new century with confidence.

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