The three telcos say industry does not need $1.5 billion on offer

The NZ Herald has an exclusive preview of a report being released at 10 am today, that was commissioned by Telecom, Telstra-Clear and Vodafone.

As readers will know, National was elected on a major promise of spending $1.5 billion to help ensure ultra high speed broadband to 75% of NZ homes.

The three telcos have released a report which basically says the Government should not spend $1.5 billion in this area, because all their existing offerings are adequate. I’ll try not to laugh.

Now you have to consider how unusual it is for the major players in a sector to try and stop the Government spending $1.5 billion in subsidies, rather than try and get some of the $1.5 billion.

So why would the big three be fighting against a huge investment in their sector? Because they are scared shitless that it won’t go to them. They are very worried that electricity lines companies may get to provide most of the infrastructure for fibre to the home. And this means the telcos would have to compete in offering services over that fibre network, plus offer complementary services over mobile and wireless.

Labour have been running what is basically a blatant lie for nine months, about National’s policy. They have been scare mongering that National is just going to give the $1.5 billion to Telecom, which would help perpetuate Telecom’s market dominance. Now ask yourself, would Telecom be partnering up with its two biggest rivals, to fund a report that argues the $1.5 billion should not happen – if Telecom thought there was any liklihood that $1.5 billion would be coming their way?

Now I don’t know what the Government is going to do. I’m not even sure if they have made decisions yet. But I think Liam Dann has it somewhat wrong in this article:

Bill English and John Key will already be having serious doubts about their ability to commit $1.5 billion.

The world has changed dramatically since Maurice Williamson – then opposition spokesman on telecommunications – made the $1.5 billion promise.

It was John Key, not Maurice Williamson, that made the promise. I was there at the speech. John was taking, and Maurice was sitting next to me clapping furiously – like all of us. Now this is not to say that Maurice was not a passionate advocate of the policy – he was, and he helped make it happen. But anyone who suggests John Key is not committed to this policy is wrong (in my opinion). It is no secret that John was a very strong advocate for it.

And while the credit crisis is an issue, the Government has made clear that they are looking to bring forward infrastructure spending, not reduce it.

Dann says the benefits of fibre to the home must be jobs, not just movies on demand. I agree. I think fibre to the home will allow many businesses to reduce costs as staff can work from home, which provides both economic and environmental costs. Dann says:

And cost-benefit debate needs to focus on jobs not, unfortunately, speed for the home user.

Last month a report by the Economist noted two studies which found some evidence of increased broadband spending equating to increased employment.

Washington-based Brookings Institution concluded that for every percentage point increase of broadband penetration, employment increases by 0.2 per cent to 0.3 per cent per year. But that is not huge growth.

Not huge? So if we get 10% more broadband penetration we will have extra employment growth of 2% to 3% a year. That is an extra 40,000 to 60,000 jobs a year.

I look forward to reading the full report. There certainly are difficult issues for the Government to deal with. For example if most of the funding does go to electricity lines companies, it would be desirable for this not to hinder current investment plans by the Telcos. I am sure the Castalia report will be a useful piece of research, as they had access to the telco’s commercial data.

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