Going further than the current programme of laying fibre to the cabinet, taking fibre to the home is estimated to cost a further $6.2 billion, of which the Government is contemplating stumping up about a quarter.
Brian is quoting the Castalia report, which I covered on Saturday. That estimate is based on using telcos only to do fibre to the home. It has been estimated the cost drops by around $2 billion if you bring utility lines companies into the equation.
But we have something of a tradition of being penny-wise, pound foolish when it comes to infrastructure investment.
We are paying a stiff price for neglecting investment in the national grid.
Auckland would be a better-functioning city right now if it had gone for light rail when Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson advocated it and/or had completed its highway network.
Sceptics of the Government’s plans are on firmer ground perhaps when they question whether they would pay off in lifting the country’s unimpressive productivity levels. Surely fibre to the workplace is what counts there.
However the boundary between home and workplace is becoming fuzzier.
If the aim of this exercise is to deliver infrastructure that will be as important for the coming century as roads and power lines were for the last one, then part of that future-proofing should take account of carbon costs and the gains to be had if telecommunications can be substituted for transport.
When your home Internet connection means you can access the office LAN as quickly as if you were in the office, and when it means you can be video-conferenced to one or more colleagues more quickly that it would take to walk down a corridor, then you will have a significant exodus of people going from work to working from home.
Details about how it will be structured and intersect with existing players are on the non-existent side of scant at this stage but Communications Minister Stephen Joyce is promising more information within a matter of weeks.
“It is a plan to proceed over 10 years, to achieve a step change and do it faster than the market would otherwise do it,” he said.
“The argument is it provides a competitive advantage to New Zealand as a whole to get this infrastructure in ahead of some other countries.”
It is not too much of a simplification to say that, historically, the things which have really propelled the New Zealand economy forward have been technologies which overcome or mitigate the tyranny of distance, like refrigerated shipping in the 1880s or jet travel in the 1960s.
It is hard enough to achieve productivity gains through economies of scale or scope given our small size and remoteness.
We are the only OECD country that is both very remote and very small. To stay competitive we do need to be ahead of the pack when it comes to technologies that, as Steve Joyce said, mitigate the tyranny of distance.