Farthest and smallest: Joyce outlines NZ's challenges

Government broadband announcements delayed by at least two months

Communications minister Steven Joyce told the audience at a telecommunications conference in Auckland today that two graphs have “burnt a hole in his brain”.

During his talk at the 10th annual Telecommunications and ICT Summit, Joyce said the first graph showed the distance to market of OECD countries – with New Zealand at the far right. The second showed the size of those countries' domestic markets. Again New Zealand was on the far right.

Joyce also told the conference that any announcement about the future shape of the government's $1.5 billion broadband plan would be delayed by at least two months. He says the issues are complex and it is better to get it right than to meet the earlier deadine.

“The stakes are high and we can't afford to get it wrong,” he says.

He said the process was reaching the “crunchy point” where a business case would be developed for potential investors.

He added it was too early to say whether the government would move away from its regional rollout plan towards a national plan like the ones proposed by Telecom and Vodafone.

Layer 2 servies are another issue that Joyce described as “crunchy”. The government is looking at equivalence of access and open access and allowing users to access to services of multiple providers over a single connection.

Joyce said the issue is fundamental to the government's NGN plan and needs industry-wide input.

Joyce reminded delegates at the TUANZ Telecommmunications Day conference in May that the possibility of bitstream services was mentioned in the draft proposal on the government's broadband plan.

I don’t have a problem with a Level 2 service”, Joyce said at the time. “The issue is interoperability and transparency,” he said. He also discussed demand side risk - the possibility that customers may not come to the new network - saying aggregating government demand could be one solution.

Joyce said he appreicates the urgency of delivering rural broadband services. He indicated that a strong focus will be on ensuring rural schools have world-class access and that the spillover to other users from that is a large as possible.

He said further announcements will be made in coming weeks as the wider boradband plan is finalised.

He said he is studying reports on access to ducts and poles, access to land on which these are located and on the Resource Management Act. Regulatory intervention is seen as a blunt instrument to solve these issues. Joyce said he prefers commercial arrangements.

Joyce said he would welcome suppliers delivering standards for such access.

Labour's ICT spokesperson Clare Curran, in what she described as her first big speech since taking over the portfolio, reminded the telecommunications industry of the previous government's achievements, including unbundling and regulation.

She said this was about creating a competitive market, not replacing it.

Curran said affordability is a key issue, including a universal service requirement.

She also acknowledged that copyright was one area the Labour government got wrong and said new thinking in that area would be announced soon.

Curran said it was time for the government to admit its planned rollout to 75% of the population would not work. She said it would be brave of the government to acknowledge that, or that the price of the rollout would be a lot more than previously announced.

She reminded National it had supported the Labour government's regulatory reforms, but said there were now “worrying signs” of a "shift to the right”.

She said it was time for the new Commerce Commissioner and Rodney Hide to reaffirm the role of the commission as an independent regulatory authority. She added that it was also time for Telecommunications Commissioner Ross Patterson to return, after completing his sick leave, and the industry would welcome that.

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Tags broadbandSteven Joyce10th annual telecommunications and ict summitngn

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