Opinion: Reflecting on a remarkable week

The internet has not just changed our businesses and our social lives, it has now changed how our democracy works

Copy ... righted?

With the recent announcement by the government that the controversial s92A of the Copyright Act will be delayed, I am taking a short breather and reflecting on what has been a remarkable week. For me, it’s not so much about the decision as the context within which it was made.

In what is a first for New Zealand, opponents of s92A utilised social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter, to orchestrate a political campaign that went from nothing, to international notoriety, to champagne-corks in little more than a week. Whether you agree with the campaign or not, that is an impressive result and one that possibly couldn’t have been pulled off even 12 months ago.

I don’t think it is overstating things to say that the internet has not just changed our businesses and our social lives, it has now changed how our democracy works.

This is a both an exhilarating and a terrifying development, and one which will, no doubt, be the subject of many PhDs.

High-fibre diet

While we await news of the government’s ultra-fast broadband intentions with a mix of anticipation and nerves, the debate over what we should be seeking to achieve, how it should be achieved, and by when, has been re-ignited. This is not at all surprising given what is at stake for individual companies, the wider sector, and the country as a whole.

I don’t detect significant disagreement across the sector that a high-fibre diet is the ultimate aspiration for our fixed broadband infrastructure, but how we get there, and over what period of time really matters.

It matters because if we get it wrong, the new found competitiveness, dynamism and level of investment we have achieved through three years of reform could be seriously damaged.

While the calls for urgent progress that we hear from many quarters is understandable, it is equally important we spend the time to get the approach right, so that whatever the plan, it is executed in a way that takes us forward.

Forget the last kilometre, how about the last few metres?

It’s a little known fact that the standard of your household wiring is one of the key determinants of the speed and quality of your broadband service. In fact, even dial-up can be significantly hampered by that ugly bird’s nest of self-installed extension wiring tucked out of site under the floorboards.

I was lucky enough to be involved at the design stage of my current home, so I was able to ensure we had a star configuration of 250Mbit/s Ethernet cabling with an outlet in every room (that used to sound a lot cooler than it does now!).

That network now supports three computers, an X-box a PS3, my new television and the occasional guest laptop — so I am very glad I made the effort. But the majority of New Zealand homes were wired decades ago, before we even had touch-tone phones let alone the internet.

Add to that the enthusiastic proliferation of new jack points by generations of owners and you really are putting a kink in the broadband hose. While it’s nowhere near as sexy as talking about billion-dollar fibre initiatives, or the advent of 4G wireless, this “home truth” needs to be dealt with in order to ensure that every premesis in New Zealand gets the best possible broadband experience.

At the TCF we recognise the need to get our collective houses in order.

We have therefore launched a new working party to review home wiring standards and develop a forward-looking code of practice that will provide home owners, electricians and cable installers with the guidance they need to maximise the in-home broadband experience.

Chivers is CEO of the Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum

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