The time has come to start testing our imagination as to what to do with the government’s Ultra-Fast Broadband network, Communications minister Steven Joyce believes, and create some excitement around the project that he says is crucial to New Zealand’s future. Joyce recalled his past studies at Massey University, studying programming with paper punch cards twenty-nine years ago, in his keynote speech at the Huawei Ultra Fast Broadband Summit 2010 in Auckland, to establish his tech credentials with the 200-strong audience. What exactly the UFB will be used for when the project is completed and twenty-nine years ahead, Joyce isn’t sure however. He singled out education in particular as an area that would benefit from the UFB, saying “unless you’re getting a strand of fibre to [schools], you’re not doing your job.” Keeping students who are used to being online all the time at home, but not so at school, interested in education is one challenge that Joyce hopes the UFB will solve. Rural schools will be supplied with UFB on par with the urban counterparts, Joyce promises. “We cannot have a digital divide between urban and rural schools,” he said. Another area that Joyce sees as natural application for broadband is tele-health, and electronic patient records, and remote working to take the stress off transport infrastructure. He also dismissed that improved broadband for residential users is “all about gaming and watching more channels on TV”. File-sharing, home video conferencing and the ability for extended families to keep in touch and share digital content were some of the applications that Joyce imagined that residential customers would use the UFB for. IPTV and 3D media are other applications that may become popular with residential users, Joyce said, adding “there are huge opportunities out there” when the UFB is ready. Repeating his theme from past speeches on broadband on New Zealand’s remoteness and small markets, Joyce stressed that UFB will help the country to overcome the “tyranny of distance” that’s hampering businesses here compared to ones in the US that have access to a vast internal market. However, while NZers are “good with bits and bytes” and used to living by their wits as early adopters of technology, Joyce says we are held back by poor connectivity. “We miss out due to connectivity issues,” Joyce says, citing the fact that while NZ is ranked in the top ten as an OECD digital economy, we’re only at 21st place in terms of connectivity. Overall, Joyce believes the UFB has made lots of progress lately, with the Crown Fibre Holdings announcing its first set of partners. Asked if Huawei would be a CFH partner, Joyce denied that his appearance at the Huawei summit indicated any particular partner preference or that there is a secret agenda to select these. To keep the UFB process on track, Joyce called for cooperation between fibre operators and local councils, saying nationwide standards are being developed by the CFH to facilitate the deployment of the network.
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