Wellington wants big broadband for all by 2012

A preliminary plan to ramp up broadband coverage for Wellington was to have been put before city councillors for approval late last week

Despite not even applying for government funding last year, Wellington City Council is seeking industry partners for an ambitious plan to develop a broadband network stretching to the outskirts of the city by 2012.

A preliminary plan, or “vision”, to ramp up broadband coverage for Wellington was to have been put before city councillors for approval late last week. Champions of the concept, including Mayor Kerry Prendergast, believe dual direction high-capacity, affordable broadband is essential to Wellington being among the world’s “globally competitive” cities.

However, last year Wellington decided not to apply for funding under the government’s Broadband Challenge scheme. The council also passed up an opportunity in 2005 to invest directly in CityLink, the private company that has installed fibre throughout the central business district.

At that time, broadband was seen as a regional issue and the city had not yet firmed-up its policy on the question, says council spokesman Bryan Patchett.

Wide broadband coverage — taking in businesses, public-sector organisations and individual home-users — needs to extend beyond the city centre, says the vision document. The council envisages an open access network, shared by any number of service providers and customers. This will stimulate competition among services rather than duplication of infrastructure, its backers say.

The network should have sufficient capacity for voice, video and data transmission, and large bandwidth capability in both directions is also needed, says the document. First-generation internet concentrated on downloading information from comparatively few sources and on narrowband email, but now expanding business-to-business communications, as well as video-enhanced social networks such as MySpace and YouTube, require symmetrical bandwidth, the document says.

The deployment of a fibre backbone network across the city is seen as the first stage in the plan.

“It would connect major council buildings, libraries, medical centres, schools [and] major private-sector businesses.

“This would involve approximately 100km of fibre, and preliminary estimates of the cost of this vary between $10 million and $30 million, depending on the extent to which the overhead trolley network, existing ducts and opportunities from other road-opening activity can be used.”

Extensions to outlying population centres would be put in place in the second stage. These will be equipped with their own “last-mile” networks, using fibre, copper or wireless links, costing another $5 million to $10 million. The third stage would be the installation of a full fibre-to-the-premises service, at “significant cost” since about 1,000km of fibre would be needed if every home were to be passed.

Council participation is needed, the document says, as private industry by itself will not find it economic to build the full network within the desired time-frame. Equally, despite its championing of broadband, the government can’t be depended on to meet the cost on its own. However, the council is hopeful of some top-up from an as yet unconfirmed new round of Broadband Challenge funding.

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