Stephen Fry, Steven Joyce and Government broadband
He loves gadgets and he’s tweeted from many places around the world, but Stephen Fry was less than satisfied with government broadband here in EnZed. And he reckons we EnZedders should rise up and take on those responsible.
“You wouldn't put up with potholes in your roads,” he says, though we do, don’t we, “so you shouldn't have to put up with Third World broadband standards as well.”
But we do, don’t we. We not only put up with it, you vote for it.
So who’s responsible for the potholes in local broadband? Well, it’s fashionable to blame the private telcos, of course. But consider that around six years ago, right when those private telcos were considering plans to roll out the next generation of broadband across the country, Labour’s David Cunliffe began dismembering Telecom—to the loud applause of Labour hacks, National stalwarts and Telecom’s competitors—and announcing plans to “roll out” government fibre.
Would-be private investors in next-generation broadband began quietly reconsidering their own investment plans. Why put your own head in the noose when you could reap the benefit of a taxpayer “investment.”
Then around four years ago in a throwback to its Think-Big Muldoonist past the incoming National government began announcing that it would be they who would be “rolling out” the next generation of high-speed, bells-and-whistles broadband, the “roll out” of which would be a flagship policy of their first term.
Potential users and rival telcos alike waited with bated breath while nothing continued to happen. And now that the former promoter of National’s next generation of high-speed, bells-and-whistles broadband Steven Joyce has moved on to bigger, better and brassier things, the non-roll out has been left to first-time minister Amy Adams—who instead of being photographed in front of new high-tech equipment sits in her new office writing press releases boasting :
The Government has set aside $1.5 billion for ultra-fast broadband, and aims to have the service reaching 75 percent of New Zealand in the next
3 5 710 years… contracts had been locked in, the rollout was under way, and competitive wholesale prices had been secured, but it was up to the industry to ensure New Zealanders got the quality and performance they expected at prices they could afford…
Or in other words, “we’ve spent lots of your money already with only paper promises and electioneering hype to show for it. But stop whining, because you’ll get it when you get it.”
At least she recognises, if only partially, that government itself delivers nothing. That in the end it is still “up to the industry.” But perhaps she and other EnZedders might reflect that the industry might have done better and much earlier—that big private investment might have been directed into this area much sooner—if big government hadn’t been flexing its muscles for the last six years in the hope of a political windfall.
After all, it looks like up to $33 billion could be the real return to NZ from the investment, if it ever comes to pass, some of which would have rubbed off on private investors. But when any private investment would have been drowned out by government and (no doubt) damned by luddite nationalists in every party, and when NZ’s largest telecommunications company is being dismembered and partially nationalised as a reward for owning and having rolled out the last national network, it’s no wonder no private investor wanted to take the risk.
As a blogger who’s now left the building once said:
If telecommunications companies think someone is going to steal their networks,they won't build any more of them! It's really simple. Now we are stuck with waiting for the government to waste my tax money building something that every private interest is now too scared to.
Former Telstra Australia head Sol Trujillo said much the same when similar threats were directed his way from the Australian government. He:
derided Kevin Rudd's election-promised "partnership" to build an across-Australian broadband network, calling it a "kumbaya, holding hands" theory. It might have been an election promise, but looks like no- one stopped to ask the company supposedly being partnered. Said Trujillo: "We are only going to participate in the things that we own and control."
Mr Trujillo, firmly backed by chairman Donald McGauchie, said Telstra was happy to invest $4 billion or more of its own money rather than the taxpayers' - but only on its terms and pricing…
Australia needs a fast, modern telecoms infrastructure [says Trujillo]. And the quickest way to get there is to allow unfettered competition. Mr Trujillo says that America and Europe learned long ago that “to foster competition the government cannot control the levers, it must let the market work. Virtually every other country has moved towards less regulation in telecoms” …
Worried that giving rivals a free ride would undermine his profits, Mr Trujillo is threatening not to lay the fibre: “My duty is to our shareholders—including 1.6m ordinary Australians. I will only invest where I can earn an economic return.”
So when private investors aren’t able to earn a return? Or they are (falsely) led to believe they can be given an unearned free ride on someone else’s network? Then you end up where you are today. As our late friend Anna Woolf said back in 2008: Remove the Red Tape, the Fibre Optics will follow. Or don’t, and it won’t.
So when you’re complaining about your broadband service today, it’s government broadband you’re complaining about.
Potholes and all.