Forum: Can NZ avoid Australia's broadband nightmare?

Wisdom of operational separation is demonstrated by Australia's woes

New Zealand is a bit of a latecomer to the idea of a partially government-funded broadband rollout, at least compared with Australia.

However, looking at the debacle emerging over there, we have a great shot at doing it better and faster.

The main reason for that is that our Telecom has already been operationally separated and, increasingly, I’m getting a strong sense it is transforming culturally as well.

Australia’s proposal for a National Broadband Network (NBN) is getting mired in argument about the separation of Telstra. Telstra’s competitors simply don’t trust the company to build and operate an open network on equal access terms.

That’s entirely understandable and it highlights the wisdom, in terms of national interest if not shareholder interest, of our own separation exercise.

New Zealand’s future broadband path is in a state of flux after the election and there are many traps and pitfalls to be avoided over the coming year as the parameters of National’s proposed fibre to the home plan get fleshed out.

But, frankly, we are at least two years ahead of Australia in doing the job right.

Telecom is already well underway investing $2.4 billion in cabinetisation, taking fibre to the node, and now on a new state-of-the-art mobile network to catch up with Vodafone.

The FttH quest will come later and the rules of the build, regulatory environment for access and many other details remain uncertain. But there is a lot of best practice in place in the form of the previous government’s work in the area.

More than ever I feel this is a situation in which the Labour and National parties should cooperate.

The planned investment is too big and too important to become a political football as it has in Australia. Getting it right is more important and in former communications minister David Cunliffe there is a seasoned expert available who should be tapped for his expertise.

That said, the other night I was musing about how the planned build appears to break all the rules for technology investment. The ROI calculations look a bit, er, non-existent. We are building it because we believe we need it and we believe it will produce increased productivity and growth.

We need to build some structure around that as well to ensure those benefits actually do arrive and arrive as quickly as possible. Can Computerworld suggest some kind of broadband evangelist body to take the new economy to the vast number of small and medium enterprises out there that could make real use of the connectivity broadband access brings?

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Tags Networking & Telecomms IDtelecomTelstra

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