Tuanz in peril as govt departments fail to pay their dues

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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