Broadbandwagon – Where To Next?

I just don’t get Stephen Bell’s criticism of the New Zealand Institute’s (NZI) latest report on broadband. On the one hand he complains that the NZI hasn’t come up with any solutions, but in an article only two days prior he reports how industry leaders have approached ICT Minister Cunliffe for help to fund a full economic analysis of the broadband issue.

The NZI report was only ever intended as a discussion document. Industry players and other interested parties have used it as a starting point to prime the debate. Nobody is suggesting that NZI has a franchise on the broadband solution. Even, Rod Drury, who has been a passionate advocate for broadband and has worked closely with both NZI and Mr Cunliffe, accepts that we do not yet have all the answers. But what most people do agree upon is that the way we fund and build telecommunications infrastructure will have to change if we are to keep up with the rest of the world.

I was at a function last week at which Drury gave a quick overview of his ideas on what needs to happen next. He thinks the market should fund the infrastructure through a bond issue and that there should be an autonomous network operator. A national rollout would be coordinated by central government but not neccessarily funded by it. Local government would be involved at a regional level. All of which seems fair.

Rod also makes the point that we need greater diversity in our choice and access to international broadband, in order to secure our “digital trade routes”. I strongly agree, in fact I believe this is a way more pressing issue. Where we part company slightly is that I don’t believe a complete economic case has yet been made for ubiquitous domestic broadband. That’s why we now need a full economic analysis, properly funded by government and which considers both the positive and negative social and economic effects, based on experience elsewhere.

Perhaps the most compelling reason that I read recently, for delivering better domestic broadband, was a story by a returning visitor to the Rep. of South Korea. The North Asian nation is one of the most wired on the planet. It also tops the tables for I.T. competitiveness, maths and science literacy and ranks highly for GDP. But the most persuasive argument for broadband involves how the Koreans have used the Internet to export their culture abroad and turn it into a win for tourism and technology business investment. Perhaps we could learn by their example.

2 thoughts on “Broadbandwagon – Where To Next?

  1. You know what would be a bold and innovative business model for ubiquitous domestic broadband? Providing Government grants akin to the ones the UK used to give out for essential home improvements (insulation, septic tanks, rewiring etc) to homeowners and community groups to fund their own community interconnects.

    Why not get away from this notion of enormous Government and put some control back in the hands of the communities? Of course not everyone will have the expertise or willpower to do it, but those that need it will be able to dig up a few people with enough nous to get things moving. Very few people are going to stand up and say “We’re like Telecom”. But quite a large number will say “Hey, we’re kinda like the folk from Ekatahuna and they built their own network”…

  2. That’s a good point. Case studies already exist of some smaller communities around NZ helping themselves in exactly this way.

    I’m essentially against fully government funded provision of FTTH. But we do need a well managed fibre backbone across the country however. Letting individual communities decide what level of service they want makes some sense, as long as there is help to get it.

    A lot of the debate assumes that every consumer in the country desires or needs very high speed access. I’m actually not certain this is the case however.

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