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Friday, 28 June 2013 16:28

ACS's Telecoms Group breaks away

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The people who have been running the Telecommunications Society of Australia (TSA) since its absorption into the Australian Computer Society in 2007 have walked away from the ACS and set up a new organisation, the Telecommunications Association.

They have pledged to carry on the traditional activities of the TSA: industry events, lunchtime lectures and the publication of the Telecommunications Journal of Australia (TJA) and the annual Charles Todd lecture under the new name. They have already created a web site www.telsoc.org.

The ACS, meanwhile, says the TSA will remain active with the ACS under new leadership and that publication of the TJA will continue. To prevent the breakaway group calling itself the Telecommunications Society of Australia and carrying on publication of Telecommunications Journal of Australia the ACS registered these business names on 14 June.

In an email sent to TSA members a number of individuals describing themselves as "the outgoing board members of the Telecommunications Society of Australia" - Reg Coutts, John del Papa, Peter Gerrand, Tim Herring, Peter Hormann, Peter Hitchiner, Jim Holmes and Graham Shepherd - said they had taken the decision "because [we] believe that the survival of the Society is at stake and that all avenues for working within the ACS have been exhausted."

All members of the group are telecoms industry veterans and former employees of Telecom/Telstra who have had a long involvement in the running of the TSA and publication of the journal, on a voluntary basis.

The TSA became a special interest group within the ACS in 2007, when, faced with falling membership and revenues, the board of the then TSA transferred the assets, both cash and intellectual property, to the ACS in the hope that the organisation would flourish as part of the ACS.

In their email the group blamed the split with the ACS on the mid-2012 introduction of a 'single brand' policy by the ACS Management Committee that it said had "made the TSA almost invisible." It added that "the ACS's new website launched in June 2012 provided less functionality than the previous website to assist us in keeping in communication with our members and allowing them to easily renew their membership online."

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The group said it had become convinced that unless something was done rapidly to retain the visibility of the TSA and to make it easier to communicate with our members, the TSA would "die a slow and painful death."

The TSA has little visibility on the ACS web site. There is no mention on the home page. Viewers must select 'communities' from 'about ACS' in the main menu of the home page to bring up the 'Communities' page where there is a sidebar showing 'TSA'.

To address what it saw as this declining visibility the group said it had created the tsa.org.au website but had been asked by the ACS CEO, to take it down.

In their email the group said: "As the TSA has been now given no direct voice at the higher decision-making levels of the ACS, and we no longer have confidence that the ACS Management Committee understands how to retain the motivation of a group of volunteers (the current TSA board and branch committee members) in supporting the multi-disciplinary telecommunications industry, we see no future for the TSA within the ACS. We are now creating an autonomous not-for-profit society, provisionally called the Telecommunications Association (TA), in order to continue the great traditions of the former TSA."

An ACS source told iTWire that the group was not correct in describing itself as the TSA board. He said that the telecoms board in the ACS was a sub committee of the main management committee and the group was "the leadership of the Telecoms Special Interest Group."

Until last November, the telecoms group, and the former TSA, were represented in ACS by Reg Coutts as director of the telecommunications board. His term expired in November and another group member, Tim Herring, was nominated as his replacement. However the ACS Congress instead appointed Ian Oppermann from the CSIRO as the director of the telecoms board.

Peter Gerrand - the managing editor of the TJA - told iTWire: "Ian Oppermann was a good choice but he has never been a member of the Telecommunications Society and was initially unaware of our deep sense of identity, based upon decades of running the TSA as an autonomous society, funded by our own efforts.

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"We had a meeting with him in February this year when he listened to all we had to say, but then afterwards took the ACS line that the ACS had to have total control over the Society and the Journal and he was not going to support us in setting up another organisation using our traditional brand names."

Gerrand said matters had come to a head at an ACS board meeting on 14 June when the group had put a proposal for a 'graceful demerger'. "We said we had made a decision to revert to being an independent organisation and that we would like to collaborate fully with the ACS and with Ian Oppermann in running industry events and providing access to the journal etc, and that we were seeking the return of the TSA's intellectual property. We were given a flat no."

The group has called on all TSA members to support the new Telecommunications Association "so that we can continue to effectively support telecommunications professionals across all disciplines within the industry, as we and our predecessors have been doing since 1874 under several changes of names for the Society, but in particular as the Telecommunications Society of Australia since 1959."

The ACS has responded to the group's announcement with an email from Oppermann saying: "The TSA will remain active within the ACS albeit under new leadership. The Telecommunications Journal of Australia (TJA) will also continue as an ACS publication. The change of TSA leadership comes after a long series of discussions, which has resulted in a mutually respectful parting of ways.

Oppermann did not return iTWire's calls. However Gerrand said that all the Australian editors of the TJA had accepted his invitation to form the initial editorial board of the new journal and he questioned the ACS' ability to maintain the publication without the significant contributions from the volunteers that have sustained it in the past.

The TJA is an academic journal published four times a year and with a number of in-depth papers on telecommunications topics. Issue 3 of 2013 has just been published, with 119 pages.

The TSA also relies for funding on a number of corporate sponsorships. In 2013 these were iiNet, NEC, Alcatel-Lucent, CSIRO, NICTA, Optus and Telstra. However Gerrand said all sponsorships expired on 30 June 2013.

Disclosure: the author is a life member of the TSA and has contributed a number of articles to the TJA. Along with a number of individuals in the industry he has been asked to lend his support the new Telecommunications Association on its web site and has agreed to do so.


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