TUANZ fires electoral shots on fibre rollout

Fibre is cheap, but holes are expensive, says TUANZ CEO

Telecommunications user group TUANZ declined to suggest which of the two major parties might offer the better prospect of action when it presented its “manifesto” on broadband yesterday.

One of the objectives of the manifesto is to persuade the parties to declare their hands in more detail, says chief executive Ernie Newman.

TUANZ launched the manifesto, titled Towards leading-edge connectivity, in the lead-up to another event covering the telecommunications landscape. Some critics at that event were sceptical, predicting that a lot of motherhood-and-apple-pie statements would be made about broadband in the leadup to the election with few specifics.

Others were more optimistic that voters could force more definite commitment from politicians.

“Communities are realising that they have more power than they thought they did,” says Chris O’Connell of Radar Guidance, referring to community-driven local deployment of broadband which he helped organise in the north of the South Island. There local government and private industry were involved in the collaborative style of deployment that TUANZ promotes as a preferred model.

On the central government side a key plank of the TUANZ manifesto is for a single agency to be put in charge of ICT planning.

“Institutional structures should be updated through the creation of a single ‘Digital Age’ government agency, modelled on the Singaporean [Infocomm Development Authority],” the organisation says.

The Ministry of Economic Development is not an “appropriate” agency for this, it says and has too much else to do to make a good job of broadband development.

We are almost through the stage of reforming the systems of the past and reform should now concentrate on the future, says O’Connell.

“The playing field has to move on from the question of regulating Telecom; this is no longer something that has to be done to Telecom,” but something New Zealand has to do to and for itself, he says.

“We want an open national discussion on national and international connectivity.”

Broadband conversation around the backyard barbecue still concentrates overwhelmingly on speed, the TUANZ spokespeople acknowledge, but O’Connell says as practical experience builds other vital parameters such as latency and reliability are increasingly coming into the debate.

While the government has been concentrating on functional separation of the incumbent provider, the community has quietly been separating itself between those who provide the infrastructure and those who provide the services, says O’Connell.

Newman acknowledges that the different levels of this separation have different timescales when it comes to investment and payback, but suggests that there are enough sources willing to make an infrastructure investment of “intergenerational” scale.

Local authorities will be a key element in the equation, as they control what has been called “level zero” of the network — the “holes and poles” which hold the fibre-optic cables.

“Fibre is cheap,” Newman reflected. “It’s holes that are expensive, and we can’t import them.” This makes pole mounting preferable, he agrees, and this will doubtless be in the face of public objection. Such objection usually has no basis, he says; if it’s done right “we’ll be taking down two copper cables to put up one fibre cable.”

TUANZ wants an end to “sweating the copper” and a commitment to fibre all the way to the premises — both business and domestic — by 2014. The fibre should be open-access to anyone willing to pay to make use of it. “Services should no longer be constrained by what telcos provide, but by what the users demand,” says TUANZ chairman Merv Altments.

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