Tech Ed: Key talks of open access for National's network

Cunliffe warns of reregulation, delay and monopoly utility

Microsoft's developer conference, Tech Ed, has kicked off in Auckland, with opposition leader John Key dropping further hints of the shape of National's broadband network plans.

Key, speaking ahead of ICT and health minister David Cunliffe, emphasised the need for fast, fibre to the home broadband, while Cunliffe continued to insist fast broadband was well on the way. Cunliffe, in line with his recently released Digital Strategy 2.0, talked about how we can use the new capacity to drive productivity, sustainability and other goals.

Key said New Zealand's productivity over the last seven years was half that of the previous seven, resulting in the biggest per capita brain drain of any OECD country. He chided the government with a statistic that if all 10,500 health bureaucrats were sick on the same day, there wouldn't be enough hospital beds for them.

Key said National's FttH broadband plan would cost $3 billion to $3.5 billion (with $1.5 billion to be contributed by government) and then fleshed out the proposal further, saying it can't give undue advantage to the existing supplier, has to be an open access network and has to avoid duplication.

In response to a recent Treasury report advising against government investment in broadband, he asked whether New Zealand could afford not to invest.

Speaking to Telecom's current cabinetisation programme, he said this would fail to match broadband to be delivered in Australia and predicted cities there would benefit from fibre to the home.

"What we are interested in is outcomes," he said, outlining opportunites to service and feed a rapidly growing global economy driven by Asian countries.

Cunliffe responded saying there were large areas of agreement between National and Labour over the need for fast broadband. He said he welcomed the fact that no matter which party is elected in November, that is locked in.

He offered a mea culpa for previous Labour governments privatising Telecom without an adequate regulatory structure and asked Key to offer the same for "waving a feather duster" at Telecom for 10 years.

He welcomed National's "Damascus" experience in reversing policy and then went on to address the Digital Strategy 2.0, which moves beyond broadband to address what New Zealand can do with its new capacity.

Cunliffe also emphasised that investment in new capacity was ahead of expectations even before the government launched its Broadband Investment Fund (BIF).

Cunliffe then differentiated the National and Labour approaches, highlighting the incentives built into BIF to encourage open access at all layers of the network.

He warned that National was planning a "single utility" for broadband delivery and this would discourage private investment. He also said New Zealand cannot wait eighteen months for National to develop its plan, and to effectively "reregulate" the market, after the election.

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