Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
7 mins to read

Tuanz makes all staff redundant

The Telecommunications Users Association lays off all its staff, citing a touch events market and competition from its sometimes rival InternetNZ.

Chris Keall
Thu, 23 Feb 2012

The Telecommunications Users Association (Tuanz) has become a party of one - and its some-time rival for the attention of the industry, InternetNZ, has been fingered in an events squeeze that has contributed to the radical restructure.

LATEST: InternetNZ responds

Last night, Tuanz chief executive Paul Brislen told NBR he had issued three month's notice to all staff.

Mr Brislen will become the  lobby group's sole full-time employee - albeit one working with a high-powered board that includes chairman Pat O'Connell (CIO at The Rank Group), secretary Doug Wilson (CIO of the AA), treasurer Kevin Drinkwater (Mainfreight CIO), the Te Huarahi Tika Trust (a 2degrees shareholder) Anthony Royal, Transpower telecommunications manager John Crisp and Richard Anderson, head of strategy and planning for Westpac NZ.

See end of story for RAW DATA: Tuanz chairman Pat O'Connell's letter to members 

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

Four positions are being made redundant: the organisation's business development manager, events manager, events coordinator and CFO (who will stay on for several months of transition).

The cuts follow a November move that saw Tuanz abandon its Takapuna office in favour of all staff working from home.

Mr Brislen told NBR the organisation's membership, of around 300, remained static. 

But the sponsorships for Tuanz events had been hard to come by over the past year.

A tough market was blamed, plus the Rugby World Cup.

"It soaked up everyone's budget, Mr Brislen said. "You couldn't get sponsorship for anything that wasn't related to rugby."

Mr Brislen said Tuanz - which has previous run a series of events including its high-profile annual conference and After 5 seminar series - but they would only take place if fully-funded by sponsorship in advance. 

With the market still tight, and it's new ad hoc approach, Tuanz could not afford to keep an inhouse events team, Mr Brislen said.

The organisational side of future events would be farmed out to contractors. Mr Brislen said this arrangement would free him up for more policy work on issues like the upcoming spectrum auctions, and the new Telecommunications Development Levy. He would have more time to be "the voice of the telecommunications customer."

It was possible that one or two organisations would sponsor Tuanz directly.

The $800 one or the $30 one?
Beyond the more challenging sponsorship environment, Mr Brislen said a proliferation of events had made conferences less economic.

The Commerce Commission, Conferenz, Fairfax Media (with its CIO event) and InternetNZ were all now running events similar similar to Tuanz.

InternetNZ, in particular, was singled out for notice.

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 domains (which brings the organisation around $7 million a year in revenue).

Tuanz could not. The organisation had made a "manageable loss" this year, but was only sustainable long term by dint of the staff cuts announced today. 

Mr Brislen said InternetNZ had turned down a Tuanz request for a grant to set up a research unit. But it was for $75,000 not the $150,000 reported. 

It was not the straw that broke the camel's back. Mr Brislen said InterentNZ responded that it did not allocated grants to commercial organisations, and he accepted the logic of that decision.

Tuanz would push ahead with its planned researched unit, and was in early stage talks with possible partners StatisticsNZ and the University of Auckland.

Mr Brislen noted that a number of industry groups, including the Telecommunications Carriers Forum (TCF) and NZICT both have no staff, and outsourced where necessary.

RAW DATA: Tuanz chairman Pat O'Connell's letter to members

From: Pat O’Connell, Chairman TUANZ

Dear Paul

As you are aware, the past year has been a busy one for the telecommunications industry, and this year coming will be just as exciting for both telcos and their customers.

In the past 12 months we’ve seen the introduction of a new Telecommunications Act, Telecom broken into two companies, the birth of the Ultra Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband Initiatives, the introduction and removal of the “ten-year regulatory holiday”, and the beginning of the process that should lead to increased mobile broadband speeds, increased competition in both fixed line and mobile, better pricing, better speeds, better plans for users.

Here at TUANZ we have fought the good fight for the past 25 years and plan to do so for the next quarter century as well. As we look to the future we see a new emerging landscape that promises much for the telecommunications users of New Zealand and we intend to be there to help guide the development of the industry in this new phase.

In the past, TUANZ has run numerous event series throughout the year. Our After Fives, the Innovation Awards, the Telco Day, and the Rural Broadband Symposium; each of these events has served a different purpose – networking, a chance to hear some great speakers, an opportunity to be involved in the discussion. But running events is a costly business and over the past year, sponsorship of events has taken a turn for the worst.

Unfortunately, TUANZ does not have bottomless reserves to cover these costs and without sponsorship support we won’t be able to continue hosting events in the way we have previously.
That’s not to say we won’t be hosting any events at all. Where we can secure sponsorship for an event we will certainly hold it, but we can’t focus all our energies on an event market that is secondary to our main purpose – representing your needs.

Instead we’ll look to other forms of communication to get our message out. We will revamp the website and our email newsletters and look to working with other organisations to represent TUANZ points of view at events. Our primary goal will remain serving the interests of our members, first and foremost and being the independent voice of the user.

In the next 12 months we’ll be heavily involved with the Commerce Commission’s demand-side study, the 700MHz spectrum sale, the trans-Tasman roaming review, the launch of the first mass market plans on the UFB and RBI and many other areas.

All of this costs money and TUANZ is grateful to its members for the support we receive. Without your commitment and your understanding that telecommunications is a key enabler of the New Zealand economy, we wouldn’t be able to do all the things that need doing.

TUANZ represents the needs of its members. We lobby on your behalf with the industry, the government and the regulators. TUANZ is the independent voice of the telco user. That’s our core purpose and the reason why you joined TUANZ. Together we have a voice that can help shape the future of our industry.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact either myself or Chief Executive Paul Brislen – we’re more than happy to discuss what the future holds for both TUANZ and its members.

Chris Keall
Thu, 23 Feb 2012
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
Tuanz makes all staff redundant