There’s a lot of filth on the internet, notes Bernard Darnton. For example, government plans on how best to spend your money.
If you’re among the 99 percent of people who can’t tell a ping from a frag you might not be sure what you’ll get out of the government’s Broadband Investment Initiative. You’ll have even less of a clue if you read the MBA-speak blather about “competitive advantage” in “innovation and global reach.”
For those who aren’t geeks or management consultants, this all means that the government will be laying new internet connections to your house. Actually, what the government is paying for is “dark fibre,” which is the internet equivalent of a pub with no beer. It’s like a party political broadcast with all of the bullshit removed.
Once the government has built the pub, the private sector will provide the beer.
“Fibre to the home” will provide “ultra-fast” broadband to the doorsteps of 75% of New Zealanders. It will supposedly provide all sorts of benefits for productivity and research for those of you who conduct cutting-edge bioinformatics research in your garage.
Thought not. Perhaps people want streaming video in their garages for other reasons. Build it and they will come.
And all of this will be provided via an ultra-fast connection to my wallet.
One thing we should be thankful for is that New Zealand’s scheme is less grandiose than stimulus plans overseas. Australia is spending four times as much per capita on broadband but then they have a lot more empty desert to provide “global reach” to. The United States is spending an unknown amount on broadband on the theory that if they print money fast enough no one will spot that it’s no longer worth anything.
The American plan involves expanding broadband networks so that the denizens of Appalachia can download The Jerry Springer Show in high definition on demand. The trouble is they don’t want to. A recent Pew Internet survey shows that only four percent of Americans lack broadband because they can’t get it. The report suggests that putting in new connections is a waste of money and that improving the speed and reliability of existing connections is far more valuable. In other words: never mind the penetration; feel the bandwidth.
But even our comparatively modest and less poorly thought out plan has its flaws. The main one being that when the government spends $1.5 billion on something that’s $1.5 billion-with-a-B that’s not being spent on something else. And, given that people aren’t voluntarily paying hundreds of extra dollars each for broadband internet, that “something else” is probably more valuable than what the government will be dishing up.
Undoubtedly some sectors will benefit. The “cabinet-ministers-in-hard-hats photo opportunity” sector will boom.
Technology cheerleaders like Rod Drury think that broadband is a silver bullet. He thinks that with faster internet hordes of “knowledge workers” will descend on New Zealand to take a 50% salary cut because there are no mountain bikes in California. State subsidised internet connections will surely help out Drury’s software-as-a-service business venture and perhaps many like it. Surely, then, if the idea is such a sure-fire winner, Drury – a man of not insubstantial means – could pay for his own internet connection.
If it was such a stunning investment you wouldn’t need to steal the money to pay for it.
* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column here every Thursday * *