2020 reaches 15 year milestone with election of a new Chair

Laurence Millar, Chair of 2020Press Release: The 2020 Communications Trust reached a 15-year milestone today with the election of Laurence Millar as the trust’s seventh chairperson. The outgoing chair, Earl Mardle completed a three-year term as chair. Earl’s contribution throughout the last 15 years was acknowledged at the AGM of the trust, held in Wellington today. Earl was instrumental in the establishment of the 2020 Trust in 1996 when he was appointed as executive director, working with the inaugural chair at the time, Celia Wade-Brown.

“In 1996, our original vision for the 2020 Trust was to create a digitally-connected Wellington city, not only with emerging technologies like optical fibre cables and the internet, but more importantly we wanted to create a digitally-enabled and connected citizenry,” said Mr Mardle. “Wellington certainly had a head-start into the digital economy with pioneering initiatives such as CityLink and W3, a web platform for community groups. But today and perhaps not surprisingly, a number of other cities and regions also see digital connectivity as a priority, including Wanganui, Dunedin, Christchurch and Southland.”

Laurence Millar, who has been the trust’s treasurer for 18 months, is a strong advocate of communities working in partnership with government to bring about social change.

“Central government is today playing a much stronger role in shaping our digital future than at the time Wellington City Council set up the 2020 Trust in 1996,” said Mr Millar. “In the 1990’s after the sale of Telecom, Government elected to take a hands-off approach to the recently deregulated telecommunications marketplace and let competition be the driver. After 15 years, we are now seeing a more balanced approach where central government accepts it has a critically important ongoing role to play in terms of both investment in infrastructure and investment in people. The roll-out of ultra-fast broadband is a good example of the former and baseline funding for the 2020 Trust’s Computers in Homes programme a good example of the latter”.

During the last three years, the trust has made a special effort to strengthen relationships with like-minded organisations, including InternetNZ, the New Zealand Computer Society, NZICT, Social Development Partners, NetSafe and Computer Clubhouse.

“Our positive relationship with these organisations has strengthened our own trust and I am sure this has been a factor in building the confidence of Ministers and government agencies in funding our key programmes,” said Mr Millar. “We have also enjoyed a 10-year+ relationship with Microsoft and this has resulted in millions of dollars of support being channelled to low income communities through donated software and cash grants.”

“Looking forward, I see there is still a huge digital challenge facing New Zealand”, said Mr Millar. “While national statistics and internet connectivity averages look promising, they do tend to hide an under-belly of digital exclusion, especially in the most disadvantaged and remote communities. The 2006 Census revealed 100,000 families with school-aged children who did not have a computer and internet connection in their homes. I hope we have made some progress in bridging this gap during the last five years, but I suspect families living in the lowest socioeconomic areas, some of whom struggle to put enough food on the table to feed their children will still be digitally disconnected. The 2013 Census will give us an opportunity to check this out. In the meantime, I believe the Trust must continue with its founding vision and strive to ensure that no-one misses out,” concluded Mr Millar.