Getting regional with broadband

Paul Swain has just handed six regions around the country $300,000 and said 'buy yourself something nice'. He wants them to each come up with a plan to develop broadband connectivity in the region.

Paul Swain has just handed six regions around the country $300,000 and said "buy yourself something nice". He wants them to each come up with a plan to develop broadband connectivity in the region -- preferably along similar lines to the Otago Community Trust, which is already working with Telecom on such a scheme.

The money will go to pay for a "facilitator" who will work in each region (the regions invited to join at this stage are Northland, Southland, Taranaki, Wairarapa, South Waikato and East Cape) to coordinate the effort.

Rather than take a share of the $300,000 myself I would like to throw a few suggestions into the pot. They're free, of course, and worth every damned penny.

There is only one way to sway Telecom or indeed any of the other telcos into coming to your region: tell them they'll make money there. It's that simple. Of course, you'll have to back it up with numbers (telcos love numbers), but once you've done that you just keep hammering the point until they wake up to the fact that there's a market just dying to hand over wads of cash.

You have to prove you have lots of customers who are high worth. That means you have to go out to each and every business you can find and make them understand just how they can benefit from broadband. This shouldn't be hard -- any company that's in business today and makes use of phone lines or does business with a larger corporation will have heard of the internet. There can't be many that don't have to transfer data at some point in their business process. Go to all of them and get their broadband commitment.

Once you've got the businesses on board, get community support. Schools, colleges polytechs, marae, hospitals, churches, RSA halls, wherever your community meets, wherever there is the potential for large-scale implementation. Get them on board as well.

You can forget about home users because, frankly, they're a drain on the resource. Well, you can try it on with them, but they generally want lots more than any telco can provide for a lot less than the telco is willing to accept. We'll come back to them.

Once you've got business and community keen on the idea there's one last thing to do before you go to Telecom or Clear or TelstraSaturn or BCL or whoever and show them the numbers. You have to try to work out just how much it would cost the telco to provision your service in your particular part of the world. Geography, that old economy stalwart, is your enemy here. It's a long way from the ivory towers of Wellington or Auckland to your green patch of New Zealand. There's lots of annoying wiggly ground in between. There may be rivers to ford or lakes to swim or even volcanoes in the path. The ground may be deemed too wrinkly or too hard. You may have electric fences or old copper or a mechanical exchange to upgrade. All these things will have to be factored in because then you can delivery the knock-out blow, the killer punch. Then you can tell them how many dollars per customer they will make.

You'll need to learn all you can about the telcos' pricing models. The new telecommunications bill talks about the no-longer-accepted Baumol-Willig rule which deals with the interconnection of networks. You will need to be able to say this with a straight face. You'll need to know that cost-based pricing is "appropriate as a general rule" and that this is called TSLRIC. There are formulae in the bill for working out how much provision of service actually costs and how much is a reasonable amount to pay for it. You will need to be able to manipulate these numbers in a manner similar to a card shark shuffling a deck.

Then you must be patient. You must pitch your market to each telco and try to get them to play off against each other, but the whole thing will take time. Don't let them pick you off one by one -- divide and conquer is a favourite telco past time. Each community should get together with other communities to see what's worked and what's failed. You're all in it together.

Once you've got the businesses and community centres wired it'll be in the telcos best interests to roll that out to consumers as well. Once the regions' homes are included there will be a surge of people, like myself, all too happy to move to a smaller town where I can work effectively and enjoy the lifestyle.

Good luck. But stick with it. We're all with you.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send email to Paul Brislen. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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