Editorial: Mulling a greener option

19:35, Dec 18 2012

A Green Party proposal to invest $100 million of public money in a second international internet cable was welcomed by Lance Wiggs, a Pacific Fibre co-founder. The company planned to build a 13,000km high-speed fibre-optic undersea cable to connect New Zealand and Australia to California and compete with Telecom's Southern Cross Cable. But its board resolved three months ago to cease operations, citing an inability to raise the necessary capital.

The Greens' idea was one of many in a discussion paper on information and communications technologies. Anyone wanting cheaper, faster broadband will be tempted to endorse it, too.

It's not a matter of the current cable running out of capacity. We are told it has plenty. But a second cable would remove the monopoly power that results (critics complain) in our being charged too much for too little and too slow.

The Government is curiously tolerant of monopoly power. Communications Minister Amy Adams recently signalled the Government's readiness to over-ride a Commerce Commission move to drop the wholesale price of copper broadband connections, reportedly by as much as $12.53 a month. She questioned the benefits, saying it was "highly unlikely that retail service providers would fully pass through any wholesale cost savings".

But building competition isn't the only Green objective. The Government would be a cornerstone investor to ensure the cable is successfully constructed, then to keep it in New Zealand control. That's mostly a matter of political doctrine. Under the Greens, the money would be diverted from spending on motorways. According to co-leader Russel Norman, the money spent on just 3.3km of motorway would help pay for 13,000km of cable.

The discussion paper also favours reform of public-sector ICT procurement procedures and sets out initiatives in education and training, but its fundamental thrust is that these technologies provide vital planks in a green economy, generating job growth and high incomes while having a low environmental impact. Essentially, we are being invited to embrace ICT and reject mining.

Why we can't have both, mind you, is worth discussing, and the paper was intended to prompt discussion.