Version 2.0 of the government's Digital Strategy, released today, proposes new developments to help New Zealanders make practical use of the boosted broadband services that ICT Minister David Cunliffe is now confidently predicting.
Initiatives include a “content cluster”, aimed to bring researchers and commercial interests together to produce locally developed content — including applications — of value to businesses. The small-to-medium business sector is particularly in need of help in this direction, to improve its productivity, Cunliffe says.
A network of eight digital hubs will be set up throughout the country to facilitate the spread of high bandwidth into the community. Front-end free access to this network will be in schools, public libraries, marae and other community centres, building on the existing framework of the Aotearoa People’s Network.
Teleworking and videoconferencing will be a significant use of broadband, the Strategy envisages, boosting moves towards a more sustainable economy.
Feedback on the first draft of the strategy emphasised the importance of developing ICT capability. The strategy includes actions “designed to address the current skills shortage by promoting digital careers and skills, matching tertiary courses to industry skills and attracting more skilled ICT practitioners to New Zealand,” Cunliffe says.
The minister has privileged access to Telecom’s and other providers’ commitment to broadband development, he says, and can therefore confidently predict that the capacity will be there.
The four years to 2012 will see twice the growth in broadband capacity than the already encouraging growth from 2004 to the present, he says.
Presenting the strategy, Cunliffe was naturally questioned about the differences between government and National Party policy on that front. The National policy is still unclear, he says, but Maurice Williamson’s remarks seem to indicate less room for competition among providers and an inevitably dominant role for Telecom.
National also emphasises fibre, while Cunliffe stresses the Labour-led government solution will be “technologically neutral”, using fibre, DSL, wireless, satellite or cellular technologies as appropriate.
The strategy expects 20 Mbit/s to 80% of the population by 2012. 10 Mbit/s to a further 10% and at least 1 Mbit/s for the last 10%. By 2018, it predicts, 100 Mbit/s should be available to 80% of New Zealanders.
Cunliffe also signals a link between the KAREN network and a second transTasman cable and a bridge between the currently under-utilised KAREN and the Government Shared Network. All future networks build with government money will be on the open-access principle, he says.
Questioned on the ease of breaking the out of the current restrictions on KAREN to scientific and educational purposes — the subject of international agreement — Cunliffe refers comment to State Service minister David Parker, who was unavailable before Computerworld’s deadline.
The Strategy is a “living” document, Cunliffe says, and will be placed on a website so detail can be filled in as further decisions are made.
“You can’t be deterministic in a changing multi-technology environment,” he says. “I harness the force of the market; I don’t try to play God.”