The new Auckland supercity council should put ICT front and centre and work with government to prepare a regional broadband infrastructure investment and management plan for the region, according to the Royal Commission into Auckland Governance.
However, even a supercity could struggle to provide the level of cohesion needed to improve broadband services, says telecommunications analyst Paul Budde.
The commission targeted the region’s fragmented approach to broadband development, as one key task for the new supercity to tackle.
“Confidentiality constraints have inhibited councils from sharing information for a number of each other’s projects,” the commission says in its report. “ARBA’s [the Auckland Regional Broadband Advisory group’s] advocacy role is weak. Policy and funding fragmentation, the slow pace of converting regional plans into action, and the inability to quickly leverage joint council planning, tendering, and shared network approaches in the region represent a significant economic constraint for Auckland.”
The commission found that local government efforts to improve broadband services in Auckland lag significantly behind those of other cities such as Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton.
It says Wellington’s CityLink and SmartLinx efforts, Christchurch’s Christchurch City Networks and similar efforts in Hamilton are outstripping Auckland, which should be the powerhouse of the country’s economy.
Australia-based analyst Budde, who has advised Auckland councils on broadband planning over the years, says in theory a regional approach should improve Auckland’s performance, “but we all know that bureaucracy doesn’t always work like that”.
He says councils need to adopt a trans-sector approach and look for an economic multiplier effect. He says buy-in from multiple sectors will produce better business cases.
Councils need to take in the total picture, he says, and deliver a range of services.
“Auckland local government has allocated $20 million in the various annual plans to broadband initiatives,” the commission’s report says. “This, however, is a small part of the estimated $1.1 billion investment Auckland needs to deliver an internationally competitive, high-speed broadband service to households and businesses with ducted fibre to the home or to premises.”
Auckland’s sprawl and geographic features present “permanent challenges” to achieving a ubiquitous broadband network for the majority of households and businesses, the commission found.
Further, while the Auckland councils recognise the strategic importance of broadband in their “One Plan”, the ARBA is gaining little traction in advocating a common approach.
Progress in implementing a unified plan has been slow, the commission says, despite ARBA finding there was a case for “market failure” in broadband justifying local government investment.
“ARBA’s recommendations are not binding on councils in the region, many of which have gone their own way in broadband infrastructure investment.”
Budde says it’s not a matter of merging, but of “getting your act together” and making it easy for people to lay fibre.
“While everyone agrees, it’s very difficult to execute,” he asks, “will that magically differ with one council? Maybe.”
The commission singled out North Shore City as one council with a well advanced programme, in partnership with Vector.
It says broadband and other ICTs should now be considered critical infrastructure in the same way as road, rail, electricity and water have been in the past.
“It is imperative, if Auckland is to progress to a state where broadband can be delivered as regionally critical infrastructure, to draw together all the various local government and central government initiatives into a regional framework, with a view to obtaining the best economies of scale and network technology outcomes,” the commission says.