Infotech Minister Maurice Williamson is "totally wrong" in maintaining his hands-off stance on telecommunications, according to one of the world's leading technology consultants.
Government in New Zealand must intervene in the telecomms market to break Telecom's hold on the access network and improve bandwidth to homes or risk being "outclassed" by neighbouring economies, says George Colony, president and founder of Forrester Research. Colony dined with Williamson after speaking to Computerworld last week, but the following day confessed to having made no impression on the minister.
"Telecom must have very very strong constituencies to be in this position. I guess they're a large employer and I presume they're very politically powerful. But you have to think in the long term, you really do.
"What will happen is that Singapore and Malaysia and Hong Kong will totally outclass you, because they're moving full speed forward to laying very high bandwidth to every single home and business. The banking centre of this part of the world is going to be in Singapore--it won't be here.
"The major factor here is the width of the pipes. You have a problem here because you don't have a fully competitive environment because Telecom is so dominant. Somebody has to rein in Telecom here and force it to offer a very cheap access charge. It's got to happen."
Colony says New Zealand's failure to create a regulator when the telecomms market was opened up was "a big mistake".
"You don't have the equivalent of an FCC to guarantee fairness. You do not have fairness here and you're going to pay for that. There has to be a backtrack on this thing."
The problem is urgent, according to Colony, whose company recently mapped out a forecast for an Internet economy which depends heavily on high bandwidth to homes and business. He says the need for that bandwidth is being filled in different ways.
"There is hope in the US now and that's cable modems--70% of US homes have cable access. There's a test in Boston that has been very sucessful and that's T1 speeds to the home--1.544Mbit/s. We're finding with cable modems that people turn their PCs on and leave them on all day. It's Internet TV. We'll probably have 10 million cable modems installed in the US by the year 2000."
While describing the cable race manufactured between Telstra and Optus by the Australian government as "a very smart move", Colony is scathing about the policy of leaving access disputes to the courts.
"If you adjudicate every single access charge in the courts, number one it takes too long and number two, the courts ain't that smart. They don't understand. This is not an issue to be decided by a judge. It's an issue to be decided by the Prime Minister, because it has national implications. It has to do with Internet access to business, but also Internet access from New Zealand to the rest of the world."