Community TV could be broadband circuit breaker

However, local community participation would be crucial to the success of such a service

Community internet television could prove to be the necessary circuit breaker that pushes New Zealand into making broadband widely available.

Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast says the city council plans to launch such a service. The man behind the proposal is self-styled “IT strategist and tactician” Dave Moskovitz, who plans an Auckland beta trial in June, followed by a Wellington trial in “the third or fourth quarter” of the year.

Moskovitz’s business partner is journalist Syed Akbar Kamal, who makes current affairs programmes for Auckland’s Triangle TV. He specialises in topics that appeal to ethnic minorities.

He also has a lot of pre-recorded material that could be transformed into a form that is easily downloadable. However, local community participation would be crucial to the success of such a service.

The venture already has a website — www.communityTV.co.nz — which promises “an online video platform that empowers our diverse communities to share their stories with themselves, each other and the world.

“People from all walks of life learning from each other; professionals and amateurs working together to create quality news and features; blogs and forums supporting an information democracy where everyone has a fair go, narrowing the gaps between rich and poor, politicians and the public, Pakeha, Maori and immigrants.”

Wellington City Council’s support will probably take the form of providing programme material relevant to its own operations rather than funding, says Moskovitz.

In a talk she gave to the NZ Computer Society (NZCS) last week, Mayor Prendergast praised a similar version of Moskovitz’s proposed service that has been set up in Amsterdam, Holland. Six radio and three TV channels have been provided for the free use of residents by the city council, through digital streaming technology.

Substantial funding from the city council underwrites this innovative venture, which has spurred broadband take-up and also fostered “new media” talent, says Prendergast.

Our local version would keep a permanent archive of programmes for download, rather than streaming them at a particular time, says Moskovitz. This means a user could, for example, trace a time-line of a politician’s statements on a particular topic.

Internet TV fits in with Wellington City Council’s “vision” of Wellington becoming one of the world’s “wired” cities — a concept unanimously approved by the council in March (see Computerworld, March 12).

Wellington already scores highly here, Prendergast told the NZCS meeting, but it must keep improving to stay ahead of other centres, and provide attractions for international and inter-city migrants with skills.

One of the clouds on the horizon here, she says, is the possibility that Telecom might — under its new management — shift its centre of operations to Auckland, dragging many such people northwards.

She also acknowledged that promoting a digital communications vision — which lacks immediate appeal as far as a large part of the population is concerned — is dangerous in a local-body election year. The councillors who approved the “vision” have not yet been confronted with the “last page”, which details the costs.

These are presently being teased out by a committee that includes prominent ICT entrepreneur Rod Drury.

The proposed community internet TV service would have to be a public-private partnership, Prendergast told the meeting — making a clear pitch for approaches from companies represented in the audience.

New Zealand is not a rich country like the Netherlands, Victoria University’s John Hine told the meeting. “We’ll have to find ways of [deploying broadband] for about two-thirds of the cost.”

All technologies will be explored. These will be predominantly fibre, but also copper and wireless, says Prendergast.

Because of the high cost of trenching, the preference will be for overhead cabling, which has proved a great success for CityLink, which was kick-started with the council’s support.

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