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Superhighways trumped by dirt tracks

Don't forget to remove your international "dirt track" as you build your domestic superhighway.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor on

Don't forget to remove your international "dirt track" as you build your domestic superhighway.

It's all well and good having an information superhighway costing billions, or tens of billions in Australia's case, but have we removed all of the blockages for its effective operation?

As I have toured New Zealand in recent weeks, I have become concerned and frustrated by capacity constraints in our broadband network.

This is especially so where services are free, such as in provincial town libraries or in CBD centres like Auckland and Hamilton, where free Wi-Fi is offered, and hordes of net-hungry freeloaders come online, pushing the speeds down to "not fit for purpose" levels.

You may recall last month when TelstraClear offered free or unmetered broadband one weekend and there was similar chaos, with speeds down to low levels, especially for information from overseas.

I said that such problems helped build the business case for better cable links from New Zealand to overseas.

Since then, we have seen growing concern over our international links, with talk of New Zealand being an "internet ghetto".

It's all well and good having superhighways running across the country, but if the link to overseas is a dusty, single-lane track, then New Zealand will still have capacity constraints, especially for international traffic, which much of our content tends to be.

It's not just a matter of getting your Guardian or Wall Street Journal instantly, but when firms increasingly use cloud computing, such roadblocks could be costly for New Zealand, as it develops its IT economy.

I tried contacting a couple of people yesterday to see how real the issue was, but much of the country remains on holiday. Certainly, the worries and concerns are real.

I would hope that as he pushed through the ultra-fast broadband (UFB) network, New Zealand's former ICT Minister Steven Joyce realised that creating superhighways in one area might just create congestion and blockages elsewhere. Since he was also Transport Minister at the same time, I would expect that he would be familiar with the principles and analogies involved.

I can only hope that his successor, lawyer and Canterbury farmer Amy Adams, is similarly aware.

With the government spending $1.5 billion or so on its flagship UFB and rural broadband initiatives, it is essential that all works swimmingly when completed, otherwise the government will be left with egg on its face.

Thus, extra investment in the variety of planned cables looks essential to ensure that such projects happen, and the UFB works most effectively.

The government has said that eventually it will run Crown Fibre Holdings, which handles the UFB investment, on more commercial lines. As the newly re-elected government prepares to hock off some of the remaining "family silver" in its program of "partial privatisations", selling all or part of Crown Fibre Holdings could be the way to pay for extra investment in the various international cabling initiatives.

And as Australia builds its own NBN superhighway across the length and breadth of your great continent, it also might want to consider its own connections to the outside world, for surely it has "dirt track" international links, too.

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