Government vague on measurement of UFB benefits

Multi-layered structure of UFB proposal will make the collection of usage data difficult

As the government evaluates proposals for its ultra-fast broadband (UFB) scheme, it remains unclear exactly how the benefits of this $1.5 billion investment will be measured.

Statistics on usage will be collected by the local fibre companies (LFCs) coordinating the provision of fibre in each region, says a spokeswoman for ICT Minister Steven Joyce.

“Crown Fibre Holdings (CFH), as an investor in local fibre companies and networks, will be closely monitoring usage and performance in order to inform its future investment decisions.

“The Ministry of Economic Development will also be monitoring success from a policy perspective,” the spokeswoman says. “While no money has specifically been set aside for [either], this kind of monitoring would generally be part of a government policy agency’s baseline funding.”

However, the CEO of CFH, Graham Mitchell, points to some difficulty in obtaining detailed usage information, due to the multilevel structure of the initiative

“LFCs will be operating at the wholesale layer of the market and will therefore not be providing the applications and/or services that are used at the retail layer of the networks,” he said via email.

“Having said that, CFH will be monitoring a range of parameters relating to network and customer usage to ensure the ultra-fast broadband initiative does achieve the appropriate economic benefits for the Crown’s investment.”

Government needs to collect statistics on the benefit of ICT to the country in terms of productivity and use of the broadband network will be a large part of that, says consultant Simon Reilly.

We have to understand the relationship between ICT and productivity, he says and government should be encouraging the development of appropriate applications to ensure broadband is well utilised in facilitation of essential economic areas such as health, education and business.

Reilly says he has interested Statistics NZ in proposals to collect more comprehensive information on ICT usage and will be meeting with representatives shortly.

Attendees at an NZICT Group meeting recently questioned whether we would ever know whether the broadband rollout had benefitted the economy.

When it comes to the benefits of major projects, particularly in ICT, “New Zealanders are not generally good at evaluation,” said one member at the meeting.

The UFB’s policy objectives concern chiefly the reach of the network, to 75 percent of the population within 10 years, and the desired bandwidth (a minimum uncontested 100 Mbit/s downlink and 50 Mbit/s uplink), according to the government’s Invitation to Participate document, issued last year.

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