Fibre optic policies to offset NZ isolation problem

The fibre optic policies of both National and Labour will offset this country's isolation problem, a Telecommunications Summit in Auckland was told today.

Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ) chief executive Ernie Newman said the two policies were quite different in detail.

But the big development was the cross-party consensus that state investment alongside the private sector in fibre to the premises was necessary for economic and social progress, he said.

"The fibre future that both National and Labour have now committed to will revolutionise our telecommunications.

"It will also offset the problem of isolation which has been a barrier to New Zealand being one of the most attractive countries on the planet in which to live."

Mr Newman acknowledged that determining the economic and social impact of any particular technology or innovation was difficult.

Evidence of the impact of information and communication technologies on labour productivity remained scarce, and the precise impact of the internet over the past 10 years was still being explored, he said.

But a range of wider economic benefits that would accrue in the long term could be identified.

They included reducing costs of transport congestion, achieving the productivity benefits of cities and clusters without the need for people to be physically located in such places, and improved economic adaptability and resilience, Mr Newman said. Most revolutionary infrastructure technologies throughout history needed hands-on government support in their early stages, and in this country the telcos were not about to deliver a fibre network unaided.

A nationwide, ubiquitous fibre to the premises network, with mobile telephony as a crucial niche extender and IP (internet protocol) everywhere, would enable a whole new world of communications, he said.

Among the resulting improvements would be location-indpendent working -- the ability to work in one place and earn income from another.

The latest census showed that more Aucklanders now worked from home each day than used the city's public transport system, while other cities including Wellington were not far behind.

There was also the potential for people in cities to work from home a day or more each week, Mr Newman said.

Known as telework, it was far from a new concept, but until now had not taken off as a mainstream practice.

"Yet with the price of petrol now the stand-out element of many household budgets it has increasing attraction for both employees and employers."

A significant barrier for employers had been a concern about supervision, and whether an employee was genuinely working. A greater ability to communicate visually as well as by audio could remove a serious barrier and open the way for a significant increase in telework, he said.

As work-related travel came under ever-increasing pressure, there was an enormous leap forward in the quality and versatility of telepresence, previously called video conferencing.

"Telepresence is effectively a substitute for oil."

At the top end it was not cheap and in the old world of scarcity they looked bandwidth-hungry, but they were highly competitive against the alternative of flights, hotels, expenses and down time, and the relative competitiveness could only improve.

Telecommunications was turning the entertainment market worldwide, upside down, with entertainment to increasingly come across telephone lines rather than through conventional television.

On farms, fast broadband had huge potential to enhance productivity and resource management, Mr Newman said.

Other applications would be in the health and education areas, while security uses would give people the ability to look at a live video link of their homes or workplaces.

The really important beneficiaries of the new generation of connectivity would be young people, he said.

When they evaluated whether to settle in this country, the quality of services they could access across the new generation of connectivity would have a significant weighting in the decision.

While Mr Newman was optimistic about the progress of broadband, he remained unhappy about the state of mobile services in this country.

It had also taken far too long to make progress on reviewing the antiquated universal service obligation or Kiwi Share, he said.

That had increasingly worked against competition in the market and retarded the development of innovative rural solutions.

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