A high-speed fibre-optic network connected to the rest of the world would partly insure New Zealand against the isolation it will face after the final oil shock.
Technology analyst, author and former AT&T executive David Isenberg says New Zealand needs to forget about tinkering with Telecom's relatively low-speed copper network and build a high-speed open-access fibre network, one not controlled by telecomms firms.
At the Tuanz Telecommunications Day conference in Wellington last week he had words of warning about telecommunications companies.
Where networks were owned by the companies and not open to all service providers, the common message from companies was that bandwidth was scarce and consumers had to pay high prices.
This message was a myth, he said. Current affordable technology meant capacity was not scarce.
Holding up a length of fibre-optic cable, he said if the world's 6.5 billion people picked up a phone simultaneously, all of the conversations would take up only 88 per cent of the cable's capacity.
A truly high-speed fibre-optic network would do wonders for gross domestic product, he said.
The New Zealand Institute says Telecom's upgraded network would provide only about a third of the estimated $2.7 billion to $4.4 billion of economic benefit generated by a truly high-speed fully fibre network.
Mr Isenberg said a full fibre network would also ensure New Zealand maintained a high level of global communications should borders be closed because of a global crisis such as a pandemic, or when oil reserves finally declined to the point where New Zealand was again dependent on shipping as its main international transport.
Financing such a network connecting all homes and business, according to his "back of the envelope" calculations, would call for about $4.2 billion, and a new subsea cable with 1000 times the current capacity of the Southern Cross cable, roughly $2 billion.
The result would be fibre-delivered TV and telephone services and 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband that would allow high-quality teleconferencing, which needs about 20 Mbps.
"There's no reason New Zealand can't build this network in five years. Japan did it. Amsterdam did it," he said.
Financing and building the network was the easy part. Generating the political will to do it and fending off telecommunications companies looking to protect their vested interests was the tough part.
In the past year the New Zealand Institute and advocacy groups Tuanz and Internet NZ have increased the intensity of their lobbying for fibre.
The National Party recently announced a pro-fibre election policy and Labour said it would soon make a major announcement, with the focus on fibre to the home.
Mr Isenberg said building a network open to all service providers would be critical.
He feared the Internet could eventually be controlled by telephone firms looking to manage traffic, trying to derail the Net's neutrality and manipulate networks to maximise revenue.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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