As I write, crude oil has increased in price overnight by US$9 a barrel to US$138. That brings the likelihood of petrol at NZ$3 a litre in the short term. It’s about to change our lives fundamentally, and soon.
The debate about global warming has to some extent overshadowed the issue of rising oil prices. Some of us are passionate about the need to deal with climate change, while others are more sceptical about the “human component”. Regardless of one’s personal perspective on the environmental issues, I suspect not a lot of people are ready to alter their habits to the point of a total lifestyle change for purely environmental reasons.
But the rocketing cost of petrol is an entirely different issue. It’s here, now, and right in your face every week. That’s what will bring about the behavioural change, and fast. Many, many people just can’t carry on the way they are.
Like it or not we are going to have to travel less, whether by car, public transport or air. Young or old, have or have-not, rural or urban, the reality is that economic imperatives are about to force us to reduce our travelling.
Every day that reality grows, every US cent that goes onto the price of crude, the stronger the business case for fibre to the premises becomes.
Fibre, in a sense, is a substitute for oil. Oil takes us to places in reality; fibre can take us there virtually. It can take us to our workplaces, on our holidays, and into the company of our friends and families. Virtual presence will never be as good as real human contact face to face, but if the choice is for Granny to attend the family birthdays virtually or not at all, it’s a no-brainer.
Consider commuting. Almost 80% of Aucklanders and two thirds of Wellingtonians travel to work by private motor vehicle. A mere 6.4% in Auckland and over 15% in Wellington use public transport. Yet in both cities around 7% work from home.
That is interesting — for all the political palaver around Auckland’s public transport, more people work from home than use the city’s buses and trains. Do I see activists or lobby groups promoting their interests?
Ultra high speed broadband offers a huge opportunity for more and more people to work from home — some full time, others maybe a day or two a week. And here’s a rule of thumb calculation — if 25% of Aucklanders started working from home two days a week, they would not only carve 40% off their commuting bills but also reduce the traffic by about 10%. That would bring huge positive consequences not only for the 25% who made the change, but for the remaining road users whose journeys would become safer and faster.
Yet its not only metropolitan commuters who can save oil as a result of fibre. What about the lifestylers, usually on higher incomes, who want to work in Silicon Valley or similar but live idyllic lives in rural New Zealand? Isn’t ultra fast broadband their first prerequisite? Aren’t they exactly the kind of successful, committed, comfortable migrants we need?
Then there’s health and the aging population — one of the biggest social issues confronting this generation. The older members of society, as they increase in numbers and live longer, are set to consume vastly more community resource than before. How apt if we can get them to live to a more advanced age safely in their own homes before moving into retirement complexes. That’s the kind of possibility that high speed affordable connectivity introduces.
And education — the thousands of mums and dads who clog up roads near schools dropping the family off for lessons might well ponder whether some of this could be replaced by home schooling.
Broadband is the enabler of a million innovative ways of doing familiar things. In many of them it offers ways to displace transport. That’s why the term “roads and railways of the 21st century” is so apt.
Fibre is the future — the world’s, and ours. The visionary Kiwi politicians who share the vision and aspire to make us an early adopter of fibre to the home and farm will earn their spot in history.
Lets get moving!