My former colleague, Russell Stanners has according to this report, suggested that the government substantially increase the proposed investment in Ultra Fast Broadband.
Speaking at the Telecommunications and ICT Summit in Auckland, Stanners suggested that the government should increase its investment from $1.5 billion to $5 billion in the UFB. He compared the proposed fibre network to the roading network and pointed out that while $30 million( suspect mis-report and that he meant 30 billion ) of public money (for example user road charges, fuel taxes, rates) will be spent on the roading network in the next ten years, only $1.5 billion of taxpayer money will be spent on the Ultra Fast Broadband network.
I think he is right.
Yesterday, I attended the Open Government 2010 conference, Stephen Joyce in his keynote spoke about the UFB initiative. Yet unlike when I first heard John Key announce this as National policy prior to the 2008 election, I felt yesterday that the vision had been lost.
UFB has the potential to materially transform our econony in many respects. If ubiquitous and cheap, it will enable a radical change in work habiuts, commuting patterns, demographics and population densities. These will contribute to a reduction in carbon footprints, fossil fuel usage and a myriad of other costs. The tyranny of distance will be substantailly mitigated, in my view.
The social benefits of the government investment will be returned many times over from economic growth, reduction of pollution, etc.
For many who know me this view may seem strange, but I do consider that this approach will substantially assist our economy. Apart from anything else it offers the opportunity to counteract past shifts from the provinces to the urban sprawl. I commend Russell for raisng this critical issue. It needs to be discussed and debated rationally.
But, and this is a major BUT, as part of this change we must ,and I emphasise must, address the digital divide which Trevor Mallard noted in his comments as a panelist yesterday. This is especially important if as a nation we are to truly reap the benefits of UFB.
More to come in later posts.