Tuanz in peril as govt departments fail to pay their dues

Telecommunications Users Association CEO Paul Brislen

July 6: It is now coming up to the mid-July deadline for Telecommunications Users' Association members to renew their subs?

When NBR ONLINE last checked in with Tuanz CEO Paul Brislen not enough had, putting the organisation in peril.

So how's it doing?

"We have received a flurry of re-signs from members which has been most heartening," Mr Brislen told NBR today.

"As we stand at the moment we are viable through the end of the calendar year and into 2013, which gives me enough time to rebuild our revenue stream into something more sustainable.

"We’re in talks with a number of parties about holding some events – although I can’t say who or which ones at this stage – and we will be pushing ahead with a members-only networking series in the next couple of months.

"I’d like to thank the members for their commitment to Tuanz It’s heartening to see the support, even in these trying economic times."

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June 22: The Telecommunications Users Association’s future is in jeopardy.

CEO Paul Brislen told NBR ONLINE that more members have to cough up their annual dues.

Around 300 corporate members and 70 individuals were invoiced in April. They have until mid-July to pay up.

If they don’t, Mr Brislen – Tuanz sole remaining employee – would likely have to make himself redundant, following in the footsteps of the half-dozen staff he let go earlier this year.

Board members could step up and take a higher-profile role.

“But at that point would have to question if Tuanz could operate as viably in terms of advocacy and policy work,” Mr Brislen said.

If members don’t pay up by mid-July, it was likely a special annual general meeting would be called, with members given the option to wind the lobby group up.

The meeting would have to ask, “Do you want us to keep haemorrhaging cash and try and dig out way out of it? Or wind it up? Or are there any other suggestions”, Mr Brislen said.

$1m to $400K
Tuanz has already cut its operation budget from around $1 million to around $400,000.

The lobby group would “struggle to remain relevant” if more membership fees evaporated.

Mr Brislen said most corporates had paid up.

Large government departments were a problem.

Some were “under the hammer” with cost cutting, or had disappeared in ministerial mergers.

Events barney with InternetNZ
Beyond its membership issues, Tuanz has faced challenges is the events space, where it has formerly run an annual conference, awards and industry "After 5" get-togethers.

Earlier, Mr Brislen told NBR the World Cup had hoovered up sponsorship money that could have otherwise gone to Tuanz events.

A broader problem was that InternetNZ had begun to stage low-cost conferences.

Mr Brislen said Tuanz typically had to charge $800 to $1000 for a conference ticket.

By contrast, InternetNZ's NetHui event cost around $30 for a three-day pass.

The Tuanz boss said people could only go to a limited number of events, "And if you're going to choose a conference, do you go to the $30 one or the $800 one?"

Mr Brislen said InternetNZ could offer a low-cost event because it had a guaranteed income stream from its wholesaling of .co.nz domains (which brings the organisation around $7 million a year in revenue).

Tuanz is an advocate for telecommunications market reform that has mounted several high-profile campaigns on behalf of its corporate membership and customers as a whole.

Its successes include the recent "Drop the rates, mate" campaign (in concert with Consumer, Federated Farmers and others) that helped convince the government to step in and cut the fees phone companies charge when calls cross between their networks.

The Tuanz board includes includes chairman Pat O'Connell (CIO at The Rank Group), secretary Doug Wilson (CIO of the AA), treasurer Kevin Drinkwater (Mainfreight CIO), Transpower telecommunications manager John Crisp and Richard Anderson, head of strategy and planning for Westpac NZ.

Earlier this year, InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar confirmed his organisation had turned down a grant request from Tuanz.

Trequest fell outside of InternetNZ's grant guidelnes.  "One of the criteria is: 'not lead to any pecuniary gain for any organisation or individual outside normal employment or contract compensation'," Mr Kumar said.

"What this means is that InternetNZ funds projects or initiatives that are for the public good rather than financial gain for the organisation."

The InternetNZ CEO said his organisation's NetHui conference was aimed at a wider audience outside the telecommunications industry, and covered costs through sponsorships.

InternetNZ did not have any problem finding sponsors, Mr Kumar said.

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15 Comments & Questions

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Telecommunications Users Board sinks out of sight.
Good Job, another levy eating non productive entity bites the dust.
I LOVE IT!!

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What levy are you talking about? This is a privately funded body with no government funding at all.

I think you need to go back on your meds now.

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"The lobby group would “struggle to remain relevant” if more membership fees evaporated."

Oh, I'd say irrelevance was achieved some time ago.

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It's sad for TUANZ. Pay your bills folks, he does a good job.

I'm pretty happy, as an elected Councillor, that InternetNZ can put on Net Hui, a far more inclusive conference that attracts people who cannot afford normal prices. InternetNZ does struggle with managing smaller events though - I think the word is "fail".

I welcome the swing towards cheap/free events like this which are more interactive rather listening to expensive lectures. Sorry Paul if it wasn't us at InternetNZ, then it would have been FooCamp, BarCamp (Gather) or any of the meetups and so on.

All of these organisations, InternetNZ is no exception, require a personal passion beyond fees and salaries, and that motivation is sustained by the impact the organisation makes. TUANZ (or is it NBR? [Oh give over - CK]) swiping at InternetNZ is not going to help us all achieve our overlapping aims. But a story has to be made I suppose.

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Hi Lance, thank you for that.

The move to free events is fine - it's one of the reasons why TUANZ no longer puts on events. The market evaporated quite some time ago and we held on as long as we could.

My hope is that we retain enough membership interest that we will continue to operate and focus our efforts online - that way we can discuss the issues of the day with as broad a group of members as possible, something we haven't done before.

To that end I've been discussing revamping our website and newsletters and am in talks with a number of organisations about sponsoring that move. Should anyone want to contact me about that, I'm always happy to chat. paul@tuanz.org.nz

Cheers

Paul

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Every organisation needs a defining purpose, and most need to reinvent themselves periodically to remain relevant.

Nokia went from gumboots and wood products to being one of the leading providers of telecommunications networks and phones. And now they need to think again.

TUANZ largely lost its original defining purpose once the telecommunications regulatory regime was fully implemented in 2007/8. The need for what subsequenlty became UFB gave them a brief additional burst.

But in the absence of any really obvious big nuts to crack they need to think hard about what their purpose is now, and what their members need to do collectively that they cant do individually, or through other means.

No orgnisation is entittled to an existence - it has to earn the right and keep earning the right. If no-one can articulate a defining purpose and a compelling vision going forward, perhaps there isnt one?

It would be sad day if that was the case.

[I think there is no shortage of issues for Tuanz as a user lobby group, including trans-Tasman roaming and the debacle over UFB connection pricing to name but two. The whole industry is being turned on its head - CK.]

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Bye bye TUANZ - a gutless, toothless organization who had about as much use as a chocltae fireguard. Dead wood - cleared out. Paul if you can list any significant achievement that TUANZ can claim as their own an has benefited the Telecommunication users you represent Ill eat my hat.

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Why yes, yes I can.

The UFB is a direct result of TUANZ lobbying for fibre to the home.

The reduction in mobile termination rates (long lobbied for by TUANZ) has directly resulted in 2Degrees entering the market, which has directly resulted in better pricing and competition for consumers.

The Kiwi Share nonsense has been removed after years of patient lobbying work from TUANZ and has seen an immediate jump in the level of investment in rural broadband and cellular coverage.

The new Copyright Act included a ten-year regulatory holiday for fibre network operators - we lobbied for its removal and the minister himself said it was due to our hard work that we saw it removed from the contracts with Chorus and the LFCs.

If we go back further you'll find TUANZ lobbied for Telco specific regulation, for the creation of the Telco Commissioner's role, for unbundling (which is delivering 15Mbit/s download speed to my home right now) for the break-up of Telecom and for better international roaming rates, to name but a few.

All of these things have seen prices reduced and capability increased for the consumer.

What size hat do you take? I'm happy to send you a baseball cap as I have several with brand names on that I don't wear any more.

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OH SNAP.

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And now I see a typo or two - that's the Telecommunications Act not Copyright Act. What was I thinking?

Also as pointed out on Twitter, I've neglected to mention number portability, one of the most sought after items on the regulatory agenda that help customers move between providers more readily than ever before.

Cheers

Paul

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As someone who does not work at a telco, cannot write code and can see the vast potential of fast, affordable communication and information services to NZ, I have appreciated the time and effort put in for us, the users (and we are all users) of telecommunications by Tuanz. Wanganui has certainly benefited from Tuanz knowledge and we have enjoyed and received great value from Tuanz conferences. Tuanz and Nethui are not mutually exclusive. Nethui is so good too.
TechEx has struggled for sponsorship, and I did note that Nethui had awesome sponsors. I would like to see Internet NZ promote Techex 2012 on its website as Tuanz has done. We should work together for all of NZ.
Paul, Tuanz is ace.
Ted, how's your phone bill looking?

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I'm certainly appreciative of many of the things TUANZ has lobbied for in the past and am hopeful it can be reinvented to remain relevant long term. I wonder how much TUANZ revenue comes from Government departments.

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Tempting as it may be to respond to the braindead, it is largely pointless, so thank you for your constructive and erudite words. Enjoy your evening and the donuts.

TUANZ has definitely had something to offer over the years, and I believe it still does. It is not an impost on anyone; membership is entirely voluntary. The informed can speak to TUANZ’ value, evidenced by the fact we have never had difficulty assembling a high calibre and entirely voluntary board. But discretionary funds have been tight for a while, and freeloading is a national sport. It is unfortunate that this may be a situation where we all have regrets because of what we should have done, but the market will decide, as it should.

Before you all abandon ship, though, consider who will fight the fight: policy analysis and review, roaming usury, UFB connection pricing, awareness campaigns on fibre application, the rural sector, education. And the odd shindig we run can be pretty good, too. There is so much to do that Paul is stretched every which way, relied on by a large sector of the telco, regulatory, and user community - and one day maybe that stuff just won’t get done. Your call.

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TUANZ has had "an identity conflict" for many years.
It has largely been funded by the telco industry and government departments - who are not actually the "users" it is set up to protect. At the same time, it is stating negative opinion and lobbying against many of them. No surprise they have said "enough" and no longer wish to continue funding its existence.

Adding to the irony is Paul - once a staunch defender of Vodafone's position, he then jumps the fence and defends the opposite camp. While excellent in both roles and certainly the best option for TUANZ, the credibility this reversal of roles has is questionable.

Either "the user" determines there is enough benefit to fund TUANZ or it folds - no different to any other entity. Its best option/hope is likely to merge with InternetNZ - do we really need both of them in a technology converged world anyway?

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Not sure where youget the idea that tuanz is funded both the telcos from. Far from it - the y regard tuanz as an irritant to be avoided and hopefully squashed.

And i think you'll find brislen was a journalist before he workedfor Vodafone also it's hardly the conflict thou assume.

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