I've never been quite so excited and frustrated at the same time.
Yesterday I sat at a Conferenz conference on Digital Media and Content in Auckland and listened to Communications Minister David Cunliffe talk about the huge opportunity offered by broadband to revolutionise our use of the internet and the economy in general.
He is right. New Zealand has a once in a lifetime chance to transform the way we do business, interact with each other and consume media. Just imagine what could be done if we all had truly fast broadband connections into our homes and businesses.
More people could work from home, lifting productivity and reducing commuting pollution at the same time. Small businesses could use the internet to do their accounts and sell products and services to global audiences. Businesses could cut their telecommunications costs dramatically by using Skype type services.
My excitement grew when Geoff Heydon, Director of Innovation & Market Development at Alcatel-Lucent, spoke about what could be done with true broadband. He also made an interesting comparison between telecommunications networks and roading networks.
His comparison with roads, which are public infrastructure that generate so much public good from an essentially monopolistic-type asset, is spot on.
It got me thinking even more about how New Zealand can take a productivity quantum leap using an investment-led approach. Why doesn't the government simply buy Telecom's network and invest in it as it would invest in the roading network?
Telecom has essentially put the network up for sale because the uncertainty over the investment horizon is too great to make the sort of long-term investment decisions necessary to seriously invest in the network. The only player able to make these sorts of long-term and big investments in monopoly-like infrastructure assets for the public good is the government.
The government's plans announced today are simply too timid and unrealistic to make this quantum leap happen. No private company will invest the billions needed to make this happen.
Tom Pullar-Strecker wrote a very interesting story in today's Dominion Post about how Telecom wants to sell the network.
If Helen Clark is serious about transforming the economy then now is the time and this is opportunity. The Labour-led government should stick its money where its mouth is on investment in infrastructure and buy the network for around $5 billion and then invest another $2-3 billion over the next couple of years making sure everyone has fibre to the home and small business.
With electoral oblivion approaching, it is one way to show that the government has some vision and commitment to building the economy. Let's see if she and the government have the guts to do something previous Labour governments have done -- to harness the power of public investment in infrastructure to build the nation. One only needs to think of Savage and Fraser's investment in public housing and health.
Be a real socialist, Helen, and do the right thing.