Broadband: if the govt builds it, will they come?

Some supporters still think a lot of preliminary work would have to be done to generate demand and applications

Discussions at the Wireless Forum meeting in Wellington last week highlighted differing opinions over Rod Drury’s proposal for a government-coordinated fibre-based broadband network.

Some supporters still think a lot of preliminary work would have to be done to generate demand and applications to ensure full and productive use of the bandwidth.

John Houlker, who works with Trade and Enterprise New Zealand, but emphasises he is speaking on his own behalf, is among supporters of this point of view. He says a good deal of “demand aggregation” will have to be done to gather enough traffic to productively fill the 1Tbit/s link Drury envisages connecting New Zealand to the US and Australia.

Others at the meeting were of the “build it and they will come” view. As long as the capacity is available and is reliable, people will think of ways to use it, they say.

A good deal of emphasis in broadband planning has been on the local network, which is seen as the bottleneck, but Drury makes it plain that he is also in favour of New Zealand-financed fibre across the oceans. This, he says, will reduce dependence on commercial telcos, who will always operate from the perspective of profit for their shareholders.

Meanwhile, communications minister David Cunliffe has told Computerworld that the government is “taking the Drury proposal seriously and will be analysing the range of issues that it raises.

“As I have previously said, the coming year will be an important period for private sector investment in a range of networks, as local loop unbundling, naked DSL and operational separation of Telecom take effect, making investment more attractive,” he says

“It would be inappropriate for the government to crowd out such investment in the short term. At the same time, the government is closely monitoring the situation and will have regard for any gaps in setting future policy.”

Cunliffe’s boss is taking the issue seriously as well. According to a Dominion Post report following the Prime Minister’s tour of Microsoft’s Seattle headquarters, Helen Clark said problems with broadband had unquestionably held New Zealand back.

“We have got what is radical telecommunications legislation reform, but you can’t stand still and think that will do the trick either. We have got a lot of technological challenges but I think the will to address them,” she said.

Clark also talked of the importance of fibre, referring to it as the `fourth utility’.”

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