Faster broadband to get you out of the car

A few weeks from now, Auckland will roll its many city councils into one consolidated entity, and technology is set to benefit under the new super-city.

A few weeks from now, Auckland will roll its many city councils into one consolidated entity, and technology is set to benefit under the new super-city.

The New Zealand Herald has been looking at the potential impacts of "one council to rule them all" in a series of articles called "Project Auckland".

Technology has been raised as an issue from the prospect of better co-ordination of support and planning for broadband delivery, help for ICT firms in the city, to touchy-feely flimflam about the importance of ICT skills and education.

But what has struck me is the potential impact of high-speed broadband on transport, something the new council will have to get to grips with.

As resource management expert Owen McShane argues, urban economies are now driven by their network connectivity more than by their size.

"The combination of the internet, cellular computing-telephony, underpinned by high-speed broadband, will drive the economic performance of cities through the 21st century, mainly by hugely increasing the integration of urban enterprises with skilled labour markets throughout the region, and elsewhere in the world," McShane said.

"Curiously, many urban politicians remain convinced the internet is a plaything for teenagers, while Auckland's urban transport planners steadfastly ignore the ability of high-speed broadband to significantly reduce congestion on the roads."

He notes that already many IT firms and councils in the US significantly use telecommuting. The technology reduces congestion on the roads, saves people time by allowing them to spend more of it with their families, and cuts down on energy use.

As councils and government look at major transport initiatives, with public transport being the latest fad for our planners, McShane wonders if their ambitions will deliver wise investments.

"The leaders of the Auckland Council must ask themselves whether they see Auckland's future as driven by 19th century physical networks or the electronic networks and systems of the 21st century?" he said. "Do we invest in rail or in high-speed broadband?"

"For those who look to the future rather than the past, it's simply no contest."

This is certainly an issue for major economies, especially Australia as its new federal government presses ahead with the $43 billion National Broadband Network.

Perhaps that $43 billion will be a wise spend, if it leads to savings in your government's transport budget.

When I was in Sydney a few years back, the place seemed a congested mess: trains were crowded and so were the roads.

And it will get worse as immigration continues to fuels the growth of Australian cities.

Yet, necessary transport initiatives, be it road and rail, like Sydney's planned M4 East always seem to get delayed or cancelled.

But we can wire up New Zealand for a few billion, which is barely the price of a "world class" rail system for Auckland or a second Harbour Crossing.

Better broadband can step in and deliver a major change in work patterns, and more cost-effectively too, while being better for the environment.

Of course, telecommuting is old hat, and has been debated for years.

The ability to work remotely is also old news. I am doing it now, from the comfort of my parents' kitchen, and they live outside a small Yorkshire village in the north of England.

However, faster broadband will allow new functionality for IT systems and cut download times, so it will become more practical than ever to work from home.

Indeed, as the daily commute gets ever more dreary, I can imagine working from home gaining appeal.

And as McShane argues, government will find it a better investment too.

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