National’s Broadband Plans

May 3, 2008 – 6:20 pm

I see in Rod Drury’s blog that National have released their first real economic policy and it’s to do with funding fibre-to-the-home in NZ. It’s good! Anyone who travels knows how dire the bandwidth situation is here, and it’s worse on the ground.

For me, bandwidth = productivity. I don’t buy Rod Drury’s productivity maths; productivity is the increase in value added by a process, e.g. for manufacturing the value of outputs over the cost of inputs, labour, and land. I could add more value (earn more) if I have faster Internet access to the rest of the world. I’d be able to read more, write more, and create more billable outputs if I wasn’t constantly waiting for web pages to load or Ajax apps to update.

At the moment, I can’t video or audio iChat with colleagues in the US. I can’t even Skype most of the time. I justified my move back to NZ because, even though I was heading for a place that’s startlingly far away from the rest of the world, I do all my work over the Intarwebs. “It’ll be just like living in Colorado and working for California, but I’ll be back home!”, I thought. WRONG.

So I study National’s proposal with great interest. It sounds good, and it’s wonderful to see that, no matter who gets elected, we’ll have a party committed to improving broadband. I am made nervous by the very vague six year timeline (conveniently larger than one political term), but buoyed by the promise to increase the Broadband Challenge fund for rural areas (I live in one). The bit that frustrates me is that it doesn’t actually say what they’ll do: it provides a budget ($1.5B) and says that whatever they do will avoid cementing existing monopolies or discouraging other investment. They’ll figure it out in their first year, lead by the PM.

I’m made nervous by language like “Finally, National wants to ensure that our investment model captures the innovation and expertise of the private sector. In doing that, we want to ensure that fibre solutions are rolled out with a view to New Zealand’s economic future and not with a view to protecting the legacy assets of New Zealand’s economic past”. I have no idea what this means, but I’m pretty sure that actually I do believe in protecting assets from the past (and for the future). I’d like to know more–anyone able to parse this?

The other positive sign in Key’s speech was the five step economic plan. It was a curious mixture of the specific (tax cuts, now!) and the vague (focus on education). I’m looking forward to learning more about the economic plans that National have to offer. I think NZ’s social system is in pretty good shape–sure, the health system’s tottering, but in general things Aren’t Too Bad. The question is always how do we improve the well-being of every New Zealander, but this year I think it’s the plans to improve economic well-being that I’ll be voting on and, for me at least, the broadband strategy is a key part of this.

I’m generally nervous about National’s economic policies. While they are “pro-business”, I’ve often felt that the benefits of their policies are disproportionately felt by the bigger businesses. We’ll learn whether that’s still the case when they come to implement this broadband plan. I’ll be watching keenly.

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