Jason Paris, chief executive of Vodafone NZ

The infrastructure Aotearoa has got right so far is digital

With the Covid-19 economic rebuild on everyone’s minds, Aotearoa should double down on its world-class digital infrastructure and focus even more on digital adoption to thrive.

Historically, governments have tended to focus most of their collective investment on 20th Century physical infrastructure. Yet we have digital communications networks that are the envy of most countries

We have the opportunity to be the most digitally enabled country in the world, using digital technology to unlock a more productive and sustainable economy, and ensure that our most disadvantaged communities have the same opportunities to access world-class connectivity as the most advantaged communities.

I believe digital technologies represent New Zealand’s best chance at thriving in the new normal. While borders are closed, international trade continues via online channels. Collectively, we’ve turned to video conferencing to replace in-person meetings, conferences, and trade shows. And it’s been pretty seamless in terms of the technology side of things.

Now, we can harness this technology to grow collectively as a nation. A Number 8 fencing wire mentality may have produced numerous Kiwi success stories in years gone by, but it is our digital future we need to embrace. This means prioritising STEAM subjects, encouraging our kids and recently-unemployed workers into new technologically focused roles wherever possible. Training or retraining digital skills.

I’d also like to see a government that works hard to prioritise and stimulate the tech sector at a time when it is one of our greatest opportunities to repair the deep gouges in our economy created by Covid-19. An ambitious Government could do this by ensuring a level playing field and creating an environment that encourages both competition and ongoing investment.

The reality is, even though New Zealand has world-class digital infrastructure, some of our regulation does not reflect the reality of competition between global, over-the-top tech companies, converged content and communications companies, local infrastructure wholesalers, and retailers. Asymmetric regulation risks hindering opportunities for Aotearoa at a time when we need incentives and the certainty to continue to invest, upskill and reskill more people and develop new innovative solutions.

Our 5G network and Internet of Things capabilities represent one of the biggest opportunities of our times – so we need other companies and our universities to invest to develop future applications that can be sold at scale to global businesses or consumers, to capitalise on our collective digital infrastructure assets. And we need government support for the acceleration of these technologies, for example by requiring local governments to embrace smart city technology.

New Zealand needs to invest, grow and build our way out of the Covid-19 economic crisis. And our digital infrastructure allows a new generation of inventors to create jobs and stimulate industry.

Unlike some of the other dire infrastructure situations across the country – be it roads, rail or water – we have the platform that is affordable for most, costing just a little more than a Big Mac combo for a month’s pre pay mobile access. While affordability is a whole area in itself – with digital inclusion coming into focus to ensure all Kiwis have the access, skills, motivation and capacity to access the internet and internet-based services – we have the physical networks ready and in place.

So I’d like to see the Government continue to progress its digital inclusion agenda as a matter of priority in the next term, and encourage all parts of the industry to work together to ensure fibre broadband input costs are affordable – because we don’t want to get into a situation where more Kiwis need to make the choice to buy bread or broadband. As a developed nation, our citizens should be able to access both.

If we recognise and build on the potential of a tech-focused future strategy, utilising our awesome digital infrastructure, Aotearoa will thrive

  • Hey Jacinda and Grant, this is what a policy/plan looks like..
    • National’s NZ Tech 2030 Plan includes:
    • Establishing a Minister for Technology.
    • Offering 1000 tertiary scholarships per year targeted at students from low decile schools to undertake science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees.
    • Establishing a STEM-focused partnership school and restoring funding for specialist ICT graduate schools.
    • Introducing a fast-track technology skills visa.
    • Investing $1 billion in technology infrastructure upgrades with the aim of achieving 100 Mbps uncapped internet speeds for everyone using Ultra-Fast Broadband.
    • Establishing three targeted investment funds for tech start-ups worth $200 million each, with the cost split evenly between Government and the private sector.
    • Developing the world’s most tech-friendly regulation.
  • Labour’s ‘Shovel Ready’ criteria for spending billions needs to be discarded immediately

  • Analysis to identify NZ’s competitive advantages in high return, low impact industries, then using the levers of Government to support and grow those industries needs to start now (it should be an ongoing process for all political parties).

  • National’s policies shows they have an ongoing process for analysis and policy creation.

  • Anyone seen a coherent Labour Party Policy or plan for rebuilding NZ’s economy?