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Telecommunications Commissioner resigns

Paul Brislen, Editor. 02 October 2019, 8:09 am

The Telecommunications Commissioner Dr Stephen Gale is to step down from his position after seven years in the role.

Gale was appointed as the Telecommunications Commissioner in July 2012 having already spent two years as an associate commissioner. He has specialised for some years in infrastructure economics (energy, telco and transport) and competition proceedings at the consulting firm Castalia. Before that he was at the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and he holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge.

Gale was the third Commissioner and took over the role from Ross Patterson and while their personal styles are quite different (Patterson was a lawyer by training) both men played a key role in shepherding the industry through a period of unquiet.

Gale was at the helm when the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) project nearly came off the rails when a long-signalled change to the way Chorus was able to charge for copper lines was introduced, leading Chorus to ask the government for more money to complete the UFB build.

The Minister of Communications (then Amy Adams) released a discussion paper that effectively sidelined the Commission from its role as industry referee and that lead to the formation of the Copper Tax coalition that fought against the move. The coalition brought together ITP, InternetNZ, TUANZ, Consumer NZ and a wide array of retail ISPs and other interested parties and resulted in a number of parties re-expressing their support for the Commission and its role. 

Eventually the Minister backed down, an independent economic report on Chorus's finances was produced and the company carried on building the UFB with no additional funding support.

Gale has also overseen an industry that has become increasingly competitive and where customers have benefited greatly from both increased capability and lower prices. As the UFB deployment winds up and attention turns to the mobile industry's next big challenge - deploying 5G services across the country - many of the issues of the past decade have been resolved to the benefit of telecommunication users.

No announcement has been made by the Commerce Commission on Gale's departure but a job ad has been placed suggesting a new Commissioner will be appointed by the middle of 2020.


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