The fate of Auckland City’s nascent broadband plans could be decided this month, as the Citizens & Ratepayers group asserts control over city planning and investment decisions.
The broadband plans were on the agenda of a council City Development Committee meeting last week and are likely to feature again on Wednesday, when the new council meets to begin its annual review of the budget and other activities for the next financial year.
“We are working hard to honour our commitment to Aucklanders of keeping rates to the council’s level of inflation,” said Cr Doug Armstrong in a statement last month. Armstrong is chairperson of the Finance and Strategy Committee, and chaired the annual direction-setting planning meeting.
“The majority of Auckland City Council’s expenditure is in its capital works programme and we will be looking hard at the timing of these projects to ensure there is affordable progress,” said the statement.
Armstrong says that even a slowed works programme will see investment of around $380 million over the next year, but the municipal broadband project, reported by Computerworld in June, was not specifically mentioned.
Armstrong says the new council will “probably” follow through on the previous council’s broadband plans, but he had yet to be briefed on the issue. He referred Computerworld to Cr Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, who did not return calls by the time Computerworld went to press.
In June, documents revealed Auckland City was planning to deliver wireless internet access in the city centre and out to the CBD fringe, via a new wi-fi network. The council was preparing a case for the network as part of a drive to deliver more affordable broadband for most Auckland residents by 2010, it said.
The plan being developed was for what the council described as the “market-led” establishment of an open access, outdoor wi-fi network in Auckland’s CBD and CBD fringe, as part of what it called its “CBD into the future” strategy.
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) governance manager Mike Reid told Computerworld that all new councils ask their staff what they were doing and why. He would expect any new council to do this. “It’s part of the normal process to go through everything.”
However, making significant changes can be hard as many projects are locked in, both by contract and by previous plans. The next planning round is in 2009, and, Reid says, he has “no sense” that any announced broadband plans will be changed.
“It’s one of those functions [that is] increasingly seen as core infrastructure.”
LGNZ policy analyst Christine Makumbe says the outcome for broadband under new councils around the country will depend on how much of a priority it is for the various communities.
Last week The Independent Financial Review (also published by Computerworld’s publisher, Fairfax) reported that an axe was being taken to spending around the country. Unlike cities such as Wellington and Tauranga, Auckland is a late-comer to municipal broadband and so is unlikely to have any contracts in place. This would make it easier for the new council to back-track on current proposals.