Government pushes on with Tasman cable plans

National appears to support second Tasman cable concept

The government is pushing ahead with its broadband plans even as the election looms, with expressions of interest being sought to build new trans-Tasman cable and announcements about a well-supported Broadband Investment Fund first round.

However, the National Party’s position on the proposed cable build remains murky. Calls and emails to Maurice Williamson last week went unreturned, but in a recent internet debate on TVNZ 7, Williamson indicated support for a second cable and said a proposal from state-owned enterprise Kordia looks “damn good”.

The Research and Education Network New Zealand (REANNZ), which operates the advanced research network KAREN, has been appointed to lead the charge on the cable, after discussions with the Ministry of Research Science and Technology, the Ministry of Economic Development and Treasury and approval from minister of communications David Cunliffe.

REANNZ CEO Donald Clark says if he had had any discussions or indications from National about the project, he wouldn’t comment on them. REANNZ, he says, is backing a 2008 Budget commitment to improve the resiliance of the trans-Tasman link. As part of Budget, the government committed $15 million to improving trans-Tasman connectivity.

“Certainly one of the key network capacity constraints KAREN has had is its international connectivity. It’s substantially smaller than its national connectivity,” Clark says, adding KAREN is a significant purchaser of international cable bandwidth.

He says it is expected the capacity needs of the education and research community will grow more quickly than that of the private sector and government asked REANNZ if it would use its demand to support the government policy goal of increased network resilience. that will involve it becoming the anchor tenant of a new cable build.

A consortium of Kordia and Pipe Networks has singalled its agreement to add a New Zealand spur to Pipe’s new Pacific cable, however, Clark says he is not anticipating any particular company to register interest.

“It’s a fully open tender process,” he says. “I won’t speculate on who will reply.”

One that won’t will be Southern Cross Cable, as the document not only specifies a new cable with a landing point geographically away from the current cable landing point in Auckland, it also specifies a new cable owning entity is required.

Clark says he wants the best option available and a competitive tender is the best way to achieve that.

Government has agreed with REANNZ that the tender will, firstly, deliver the government’s desired policy outcomes of a new cable and new cable owning entity and ideally geographic resilience through its procurement.

Secondly, REANNZ will act as sole procurement agent, keeping relevant ministers and officials “well informed”.

Thirdly, the capacity will be purchased by REANNZ following provision of equity from the Crown and will be an asset on REANNZ’s balance sheet.

Fourthly, the capacity purchased will be able to be transferred to the Crown in the event of a change in REANNZ ownership or REANNZ ceasing operation. REANNZ will also not be allowed to resell capacity purchased.

REANNZ aims to hold Responder briefing sessions during the week of October 27 with applications provided by November 24.

REANNZ wants the capacity to be available in the second half of 2009 when its current arrangements come up for review. It is asking for pricing on a 10 to 15 year lease as the anchor tenant.

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