IT Minister Paul Swain was criticised yesterday for putting too much emphasis on broadband technology and not enough on broadband applications.
His prime critic at yesterday's E-vision centre’s “Unwired World” in Wellington was Bronwyn Howell, of the Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation, based at Victoria University.
She says she wanted to uncover what government and its education sector is doing to encourage research and development on new uses for the emerging broadband infrastructure. “And I think I got the answer - nothing.”
Swain said “heaps” is being done, but he was short on specifics, says Howell.
He referred briefly to Leaning Media and the gift of laptops to school principals, and added that feedback on applications is a large part of the function of the E-commerce Action Team (Ecat).
Howell says there is talk about the use of the network for the kind of information applications already visible, but adds that nothing is being done to predict what new applications will emerge.
“Who would have thought when the government first constructed roads,” says Swain, “that we would someday have had this new technology thing called a Mack truck?”
Much of the future use of the infrastructure being constructed now, he implied, is unpredictable.
The extension of the communications concept to Swain’s new transport portfolio proved irresistible to several members of the audience. Chris O’Donnell, of Radar Guidance, asked what assurances the government has that it is not “narrow-gauging the system” as it had with railways; paying insufficient attention to future scalability of the chosen technologies.
Swain says this aspect is considered. He admits he has doubts about “some of the offerings” from replies to the request for information on the regional broadband project.
But talk of current and future broadband capability is of little value, Howell says, when the need and user awareness of need, is hardly there.
“We have some of the cheapest broadband in the world” available to certain parts of the country, she says, but still only a fraction of internet users have taken advantage of what’s available, because the applications are not visible.