Monday, October 26, 2009

Investing in New Zealand Broadband

In a stirling example of what is right with Scandinavia, the Government of Finland has decided to make broadband access a legal right. This is a laudable example of 21st century government infrastructure investment, and the successful Scandinavian approach to government economic investment.

Poor performance on the part of our privatised national telecommunications giant has resulted in our equivalent infrastructure being in a woeful state. Considering a supposed government emphasis on creating a "knowledge economy" (whatever that means), the vitality of the internet in general, and its ability to mitigate to a certain extent our inherent disadvantage in being located on the other side of the world; one would think rectification and improvement of our internet problems would be imperative.

Regrettably such strident measures have not yet eventuated here. While National has indeed agreed to fork out one and a half billion dollars creating such infrastructure here in New Zealand, there are two problems with its plan. First, their committment to using private sector companies' part-funding. Given the rather appalling record of private control of infrastructure that this country has (the obvious examples being railway tracks), it seems somewhat odd to entrust such a vital element of our national growth to anyone but the public.

Second, to my mind they aren't going far enough. The key difference between the NZ plan and the Finnish plan isn't the speed (100 megabits per second in both cases), but rather an entirely different kind of access. The Fins have decided to make such fast broadband access a national right available to all; whereas National's silence on the matter (excepting their excellent idea of ensuring availability to schools) convinces one to assume it will be the 'user pays' system of our historically tight market.

Having publically ensured (and subsidised) broadband access for everyone might seem to be at the rather cavalier end of "thinking big" policy, but it is this writer's belief that in order to secure both parity with living standards in Europe, and to take and hold an international competitive advantage, such a plan is necessary for New Zealand.

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