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Leaders hope to ‘expand the industry and fill the gaps’

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 28, 2012) – Telecommunications minister Mark Brown has convened a meeting of the telecommunications industry – providers, retailers and associations of users – to discuss its future.

Originally scheduled to be held at his office, the venue was yesterday changed to Telecom Cook Islands headquarters in Parekura. Billed as an ‘informal forum’, the meeting is scheduled to take place between 1:30pm and 4pm today.

Joining Brown at the meeting’s helm will be one of Telecom New Zealand’s new directors, Mark Beder. Brown met with Beder in Wellington early this month, and both decided to hold an industry meeting in Rarotonga for those who "would be interested in exploring wholesale opportunities," Telecom Cook Islands chief executive Jules Maher explained.

Also sitting in on the meeting will be a specialist in technical design and a lawyer, both of whom are affiliated with Telecom New Zealand.

Maher says the meeting is targeted at those parties which are keen to "work with Telecom to expand the industry and fill the gaps."

"The minister is inviting people to come up with practical suggestions as to how they might like to become involved and partner with Telecom.

"It’s up to them to come up with ideas, they might say, "here’s a gap in the market that Telecom is not filling, and this is how we think we can help."

Maher says Telecom Cook Islands is looking forward to partnering with members of the community who have a vested interest in telecommunications.

"We’ve said from the beginning we can’t do everything. The IT industry is very thin here and we are hoping to explore opportunities for cooperation. At the end of the day it’s about how do we cooperatively work to serve the ICT requirements of the country?"

Invitations were distributed to 12 parties on Friday afternoon, among them Bill Carruthers, William Framhein, Pua Hunter, Robert Matheson, Tofinga Aisake and Maureen Hilyard.

Private businesses Sky TV, Summerfield Systems and The Computer Man were also invited, as was the Cook Islands Internet Action Group.

"I am aware of your strong interest in telecommunications and/or ICT. As minister of telecommunications it is my duty to ensure the industry is working as effectively as possible to meet the needs of the Cook Islands, so I would like you to join me and other interested people to explore some ideas," Brown’s invitation reads.

The meeting agenda includes discussion of potential "wholesale opportunities" for local individuals and businesses keen to partner with Telecom, and a presentation from Telecom Cook Islands outlining the current telecommunications environment and the company’s expectations for change within the next 24 months. The Cook Islands Internet Action Group called a last-minute meeting yesterday to discuss the issues it most wanted aired this afternoon.

President Maureen Hilyard said her objective in calling the pre-meeting meeting was to "determine a united stand on what it is we want to be pushing." The Cook Islands Internet Action Group is hoping to initiate a discussion around amending the Cook Islands’ telecommunications bill, which it considers outmoded.

As far as Maher knows, the bill is not on the agenda.

For his part, Framhein does not have high hopes for this afternoon’s meeting. He says the agenda is vague, and doubts that his concerns will be properly addressed. Framhein is still smarting from Telecom Cook Islands’ rejection of his request to lease two of its fiber-optic strands on Rarotonga.

"Whatever Telecom says tomorrow in terms of wanting to offer wholesale rights, the fact is they don’t even want to let us lease two fiber strands. I didn’t know they were earning so much money that they can turn business away. Whatever Telecom proposes tomorrow I’m not going believe until they actually do it," Framhein said.

Telecom Cook Islands reportedly rejected his proposal on the basis that he has not met all licensing requirements. Framhein is adamant that he has.

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