Government promises $400m for Digital Strategy

Industry pleased to see the fruits of years of discussion

The Government's Digital Strategy has been well received by industry sources pleased to see $400 million earmarked for the scheme.

CityLink's managing director, Neil de Wit, gives the document seven out of ten and sees it as a vindication of the CityLink model.

"It's almost an eight out of ten at this stage. It's really encouraging to see."

After years of discussion about how to proceed with building New Zealand's digital future, de Wit sees the Digital Strategy as a roadmap to the goal that has been talked about for so long. In recent years the Government has held the Knowledge Wave conference, which outlined initiatives for the "knowledge-based economy"; the HiGrowth Project, with its goal of raising the ICT sector's share of the GDP from 4% to 10%; and the Growth and Innovation Framework, which singled out four sub-sectors, including ICT, which could boost New Zealand's economic wellbeing.

"It points the way," De Wit says. "It includes incentives which are always important and sets out the timeline."

That timeline includes introducing "fast broadband", defined as being 5Mbit/s, to most residential homes by 2007. De Wit says while he struggles to define fast broadband as only 5Mbit/s, the goal is an admirable one and he believes condominium fibre, or MUSH networks — similar to CityLink's — are the way to go.

"MUSH stands for municipalities, universities or utilities, schools and hospitals. CityLink serves the CBD well but we certainly don't reach out into the suburbs and that's what this kind of project is all about."

For De Wit the key phrase is "open access" networks, something the Digital Strategy calls for in 15 New Zealand cities.

"That includes Wellington as far as I'm concerned but that still penetrates a long way into New Zealand heartland."

The Digital Strategy earmarks $24 million for open access networks to offer affordable broadband. The Minister for Communications and IT, David Cunliffe, says this is dear to his heart.

"I think New Zealand needs faster broadband and it should be cheaper".

The Telecommunications Users Association agrees. TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman describes the Strategy as nothing less than "a bold, comprehensive, visionary plan that for the first time sets out a challenging yet achievable economic development course for New Zealand in the digital age".

Newman says TUANZ welcomes the desire to move New Zealand into the top half of the OECD in terms of broadband penetration.

"The Government is to be applauded in setting a measurable goal of lifting New Zealand to the top quarter of the OECD for broadband uptake by 2010." Part of that goal is for New Zealand to make it into the top half by 2007, something TelstraClear believes it can help deliver, according to industry and regulatory affairs spokesman Grant Forsyth.

"“We hope today’s strategy will be the catalyst for rapid change that brings competitive, better and faster broadband services to all New Zealanders," Forsyth says.

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