Blog Comments on National’s Fibre to the Home Plan

It has been interesting to see the various posts and press releases on National’s proposal. I’ll try and cover most of them:

Phil at Whoar labels it as “what could well be an election winning policy.

Bomber at Tumeke calls it a “Bloody good idea”. Heh shouldn’t that be damn good idea 🙂

Mike at Morphyoss says:

“good on you National for releasing a good policy that will massively benefit New Zealand should they win the election. Now it is up to Labour to respond, remember fibre is extremely important to our economy and it is important that labour do something about that or they will lose the election”

David Slack at Public Address is unimpressed with some of the arguments against:

Here’s my response to the snide folk who have been saying: faster downloading for your YouTube and your porn and your pirated movies. I spend thousands on hosting in the USA because no-one here can set me up with a fast enough server and a big enough data allowance. That money could be being spent here. Ask Rod Drury what it could mean for the Software As A Service businesses he’s involved in.

It’s becoming trite to say it, but it’s nonetheless true: internet infrastructure is as important to us as roads, railways and refrigerated ships. Why not have it in abundance, rather than relatively scarce and expensive? Let a thousand e-commerce sites bloom!

Business NZ says

National’s plan to speed up provision of to most premises is welcome, says .

Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly says a public-private partnership is a logical way to spread the cost of such a huge undertaking.

“The challenge would be in working out just how the partnership would operate to ensure as many investors as possible could contribute, and in finding an appropriate regulatory regime.”

The EPMU is also reasonably supportive:

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union says John Key’s policy of rolling out fibre optic cable to 75% of New Zealand homes is a step in the right direction, but is concerned the task may be impossible given the current skills shortage.

“We really want to see this sort of project happen as any investment that will increase productivity in New Zealand is good for our members but until we see details on wages and training around this it’s hard to see how fibre roll-out will be possible.”

In terms of the issues the raises about skills and capacity, I don’t think it will be a major barrier (but certainly is a factor). When InternetNZ met with of the NZ Institute last week to discuss his fibre proposal, one of the issues we raised was whether there was enough capacity to physically get fibre laid out by 2018 (note National is proposing 2014 as a target). Off memory Skilling indicated that they had talked to two separate engineering firms and their advice was there was enough people and and capacity to do it within 10 years, and even within five years if you really pushed it.

Now that is second or third hand so it doesn’t mean there may not be issues, but it does show some work has already been done looking at the capacity issue. One reason it is important is if supply can not meet the demand, prices could go up significantly. This has been an issue in the roading sector.

Jordan Carter is also pleased:

I am pleased that with John Key’s policy proposal, launched yesterday at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Wellington, the debate about New Zealand’s broadband future has shifted from “whether” to do fibre to the home, to “how and how soon” to do it.

Professionally speaking, I am pleased there is now a political commitment from one major party to putting money into this. I am looking forward to assessing the various plans that come forward, and I’m sure that InternetNZ will be looking to persuade all parties to invest in this critical infrastructure.

As a Labour person I am quite sure the Nats’ proposal can be bettered, and that Labour will do so. ’s comments have critiqued what the Nats have proposed – the specifics of it, such as they are – but he has not criticised the goal. That’s good, because it is important for New Zealand to get on with it.

As Jordan says, the ball is in Labour’s court. A win-win will be as many parties as possible commited to the goal.

Final point, I ended up next to Williamson at the launch lunch. His zeal for this is impressive, given his record in government. It’s nice to see a genuine change of view and broad, cross-party acknowledgement of the importance of this kind of technology.

I was at the same table, and it is generous of Jordan to note Maurice’s enthusiastic advocacy of this proposal. Some have suggested he would have problems with it, but far from that – he has helped John Key with a fair bit of the research going into this.

In fact I joked to one person, that Maurice was now so enthusiastic about this type of intervention, it was a bit like how a smoker who gives up smoking becomes the most passionate anti-smoker 🙂

Also somewhat amusing was that a fellow guest at our table (not knowing Jordan’s political background I think) stated his view that Labour had done an awful job in this area. Now the last thing one wants is a big political debate over lunch, so Jordan was being very tactful with his response. I actually interjected into the conversation and praised most of what Labour and David Cunliffe has done in this area, and said the work they had done to date built a good base, but this was really about taking a big step up from that base.

Anyway I found it amusing to be defending Labour’s record in this area, in front of National’s IT/Comms spokesperson. I must say though I was disappointed with Cunliffe’s response to the policy, but I suppose he didn’t have much choice unless he could convince Michael Cullen to lend him a quick $1.5 billion 🙂

Finally on the luke-warm but positive side we have Russell Brown at Public Address:

National’s new $1.5 billion broadband spending proposal — it’s a bit soon to be calling it a “plan” — is nothing if not ambitious: 75% of homes with fibre connectivity in by 2014 is not a goal that has been envisaged as realistic before.

It is ambitious.

The initial step is a doubled of the Broadband Challenge Fund to $48 million, and there’s a very welcome commitment to “open access” (whether that means dark fibre or open access on the operator’s terms isn’t clear). There’s no indication as to whether National is talking about a monolithic FibreCo-style operator, or multiple providers whose interconnection is subject to regulation.

They are critical details, and that is why it is not planned any actual digging and laying will start until 2010. One has to get the structure and policy right and you really need time to do that. However while those details are being worked out there are things one can do in the very short-term which will make the task easier – such as ensuring duct or fibe is laid every time a current road is dug up. Some firm guidance (or instructions!) to local government can help reduce the cost a lot, as can environmental regulations.

What benefits would this massive investment bring over new DSL technologies via the existing residential copper network? For a start, it would work as advertised: 24Mbit/s DSL is more a theory than a reality for most users (although Telecom’s programme to bring the fibre closer via cabinetisation will help) and it’s extremely asymmetric — much fast down than back up. The problem of long cable runs basically disappears when you install fibre. You’d be doing it eventually anyway: when the existing copper expires, there’s no point in replacing it with more copper.

Absolutely. Fibre to the Home is inevitable. It is just a matter of timing – do we want to wait until 2040 and be last in the OECD, or try and secure some advantages by being early, to counteract our geographical disadvantage.

Russell also points some credit my way for “tireless advocacy”. While obviously I am an advocate, and have been for some time, I don’t think anyone should doubt this came about because of John Key’s personal belief and commitment to this infrastructure investment. I understand he has spent scores of hours in talks and discussions on the issue, and probably knows the ins and outs better than most industry specialists now.

Two others who are influential and helped make it happen were Maurice WIlliamson and Bill English. Jordan Carter has already noted Maurice’s passion for this plan. Bill has had a bit of stick for his comments a year ago which were sceptical of crown investment. The role of the Shadow Minister of Finance is to be sceptical and hard nosed on colleagues spending ambitions. I wouldn’t quite say his or her initial response should always be no, but hey it’s a reasonable negotiating position to start from 🙂

I am not Bill’s spokesperson (for which we are both grateful 🙂 ) but I think people will find he is fully behind the initiative (in fact I understand all of Caucus is quite wildly enthusiastic about it) and his job is to help make it happen as Minister of Finance. If anyone thinks there is some violent behind the scenes struggle about this policy, I think they will be sadly disappointed.

Now of course not everyone has been positive, and for those who want a libertarian critique I refer you to Liberty Scott who labels it as Think Big Mark II and argues in favour of leaving it to the market.

Also against is NZ First (they just whine about Telecom) and Kiwiblogblog which claims it will be wasteful government spending as we will never need home Internet speeds faster than Telecom’s ADSL2+ rollout.

Sounds to me a bit like the infamous “640K ought to be enough for anybody” statement in 1981, attributed to (and denied by) Bill Gates. I am very confident they will be wrong by similar levels of magnitude!

UPDATE: The Standard has also come out against it.

I think it is has been extremely enlightening that basically all the left wing blogs where the authors use their real names have been supportive of the policy, while the left wing blogs where the authors are anonymous are against. I’ll leave it to others to draw conclusions on whether this is a coincidence or not, and what this may indicate about who the authors are.

UPDATE2: I missed a couple of comments. No Right Turn labels the policy as good at first glance. And since I wrote the blog post, Dancer at The Standard has labelled the policy as a good thing.

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