It is certainly a relief to finally see some leadership from the government in terms of their expectations around the broadband rollout. But in 5-10 years time when the project is finally complete will we have found a way to leverage this huge investment of public funds?
Industry ginger groups are being politely optimistic about the plan but it remains to be seen for how long the honeymoon lasts. Telecommunications is a highly political arena with many vested interests. Indications that the Crown Fibre Holding company will remain a Crown entity rather than a commercial state owned enterprise are certainly encouraging however; because the last thing we need is the new network being flogged off to an incumbent player or other foreign controlled interests at some point in the future.
But what are we going to use high speed broadband networks for once they are built? One would like to think that there will be more lofty social benefits than facilitating faster access to pornography, violent online games and moronic TV shows. Of course despite all the clamour by telcos and their equipment suppliers for a bite of the apple, we have never yet seen a properly articulated explanation of exactly what the social and economic return will be.
That aside, there is a wonderful window of opportunity for the government here. Surely we now need to provide an innovation challenge to stimulate the development of novel online services? Imagine how many creative new start-up companies could be kick-started. It seems glaringly obvious, but this aspect of the plan appears to have been somewhat overlooked as the government instead heavily promotes cowshit and tourism as our economic saviours.
There is another issue that has been overlooked as well. Until New Zealand gets access to better bandwidth and some decent competition on networks across the Pacific, improving domestic connectivity is likely to have only a limited overall effect on economic growth.