If nothing else, Kim Dotcom’s tweet about reviving Pacific Fibre has reignited debated about whether we need a competitive international cable market for New Zealand.
The short answer is yes, because we don’t have a competitive international cable market. We have Southern Cross Cables and its network, but we don’t have competition, and this concerns me.
It also concerns most of the telcos and ISPs I talk to and it should concern anyone who is supportive of New Zealand building an internationally competitive digital economy.
In the old days we talked about the internet as the “freezer ship” of the future. The internet could deliver the same increase in productivity to the New Zealand economy that the introduction of freezer ships did way back when.
It seems so quaint now, to think of the internet in terms of commerce, when these days we use it to organise revolutions both social and political, but there it is, the internet’s dirty little secret: it can be used to make money.
I’ve said it before, repeatedly, and I’ll keep on saying it. New Zealand stands to gain the most from the move to a digital economy.
We can export teaching instead of teachers, we can export intellectual property instead of goods, we can export talent without losing those people. We can export our business savvy, our capability, our cost effectiveness and our willingness to get the job done.
These things are all in short supply around the world – we can fill that need and we can do it from here, without having to go overseas unless we want to.
For that to work we need something that is also in short supply. Leadership. We don’t need more management, we need leaders with a vision. We need someone to say “this is the plan, this is what we’re going to do because it needs doing”, not “my staff didn’t inform me” or “of course I’m worth my million-dollar salary”.
If nothing else, Kim Dotcom is good at cutting through the red tape and getting on with it. Love him or hate him, you have to give him that. Want to share files? Build a file-sharing site. Want to play Modern Warfare 2? Lay fibre to the mansion and hook up your Xbox. Want to run an international business from New Zealand but the infrastructure is lacking? Build the infrastructure yourself and get on with it.
We need four things to get this digital economy off the ground: international connectivity, cheap green power, an environment that will attract talent and more students coming through the system keen to work in the digital economy. Let’s focus on that for a while and see how we get on.
And if it takes an odd German with an odd name and a penchant for the wrong German cars (get a Porsche) then so be it. We’re in no position to be picky – let’s just get it build and then discuss the niceties.
I've heard from a number of TUANZ members who are keen to see something get off the ground. They see the need for competition on the international leg and were disappointed to see Pacific Fibre fall by the wayside.
Suggestions have ranged from a TUANZ tax on every telco bill to fund a build through to setting up a trust similar to the model used to build electricity lines around New Zealand.
I'd be keen to see whether such a thing would fly – it would need the buy-in of some major telcos so we could add the pennies per call or dollars per month to the bill, but that's not insurmountable.
What do you think? Would a publicly-funded project get off the ground?
Paul Brislen is chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ).