Wellington City Council will press for the second trans-Tasman telecommunications cable to be landed in the capital as part of its plan to provide Wellington’s population with quality broadband service and to raise the city’s reputation as a technological leader.
The council’s strategy manager, Paul Desborough, says the Wellington cable push will form part of a drastically rejigged plan for broadband in the city.
Mike Jamieson, spokesman for Kordia, the local partner in the planned trans-Tasman cable joint-venture, says landing it in Wellington “is not under active consideration”. But “if someone made a strong enough representation [the partners] would be prepared to listen”.
“There are technical difficulties with Cook Strait,” Jamieson says.
He says the preference now is to land the cable in Auckland where its major competitor, the Southern Cross cable, already comes ashore; but, he says, Kordia is prepared to talk about other options.
On the local level, however, a set of recommendations approved by the council earlier this month has been seen by some as a backdown after an ambitious “vision” document for a city-wide broadband network it adopted unanimously in February last year.
Instead of spending ratepayers’ funds on laying a lot of its own fibre or directly commissioning the laying of fibre, the council has now decided to make what Desborough calls “Level O facilities” — ducts, pipes and poles supporting street-lighting and trolleybus lines available to telcos “for nil or nominal charge for deployment of open access broadband infrastructure”.
It will look to create a permanent duct network through the city for future use by multiple fibre providers.
Desborough says in the course of evolving the plan, the council has had extensive discussions with major telcos and there is a good chance that one or more will take up the offer of saving on a significant part of the cost of rolling out some of that infrastructure.
Devising business models in a dynamic and competitive market means balancing likely demand with supply. Here, the cost of securing appropriate rights of way and digging trenches is a significant factor. Free or almost free availability of such routes “may be enough to tip the balance” and make the deployment of a broadband network feasible, he says.
The council has not totally abandoned the idea of directly participating in a fibre-laying exercise, Desborough says. The report says such an option does not stack up financially at present, but “continued work on business models is recommended to maintain this option for the future should it be required”.
Accordingly, the council has committed to trials of less expensive shallow burial of cables and “microtrenching”, a technique of laying cable in trenches only about 10cms wide under road-seal, or even in a 10-12 mm-wide groove cut by a circular saw.
An important factor in the equation is the lack of government subsidy, Desborough says. Wellington missed out on the government’s Broadband Challenge fund in 2006, because it saw it as a regional issue and there were too many bodies to be canvassed to come up with a proposal in time. It banked on a second tranche of Broadband Challenge funding, but this does not now look likely.
Desborough says the government should come to the party since a good deal of the benefit of a broadband network would be in areas such as education and health.