I’ve been taking part lately in a broadband strategy group looking to improve Internet access in North Canterbury – it’s an important discussion that I’m happy to be part of. I’ve got pretty annoyed however about the hollow platitudes that get thrown about things like “broadband would give this country an immediate 10% productivity boost” – the sort of thing that sounds good but means nothing without empirical data.

Over on Simon’s excellent blog I cam across this vidcast of Bernard Hickey from interest.co.nz, Ernie Newman from the Telecommunications Users Association and Rob O’Neill, Editor of ComputerWorld. All these players are smart, well-respected people. Put them all together however and you get the same sort of self-serving comments that fire up the rabble but do nothing to improve the validity of the debate.

I commented on Simon’s vid but thought I’d copy my comment here to elicit further dialogue.

Stuff that I disagree about

  1. At 1’20” Bernard lists what broadband means for him – all of what he lists I can perform with dodgy DSL sited 5km from the nearest exchange, So the issue would not seem to be speed so much as general access
  2. 3″ 10 Bernard says we’re stuck with a 1970’s infrastructure which is plain wrong – if one looks at the speed and coverage increase over the past decade one can see that, while progress could definitely be better, we’re still ahead of many of our OECD competitors
  3. At 3’20” Bernard says we need the biggest pipes we can get – I contend that in fact we need the widest spread pipes that we can get – we can supersize them once we have the coverage
  4. Ernie says at 3’40” that Gen Y live their lives online which is a fact but a) how much of that is actually productive (there is a difference between surfing porn and providing some gain for the country and b) much of what Gen Y surfs isn’t overly bandwidth intensive – thus coverage rather than pipe size is key
  5. Rob’s point re increasing bandwidth requirements for new media are valid to a point – but the cost vs speed is a very important issue that given our population and geography cannot be overlooked
  6. Bernard’s comments at 7’00” re upload capacity would seem to be red herrings – has he looked at the offerings that give FLS both up and down which are already on the market in New Zealand
  7. Bernard’s contention that hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders would be freed up to become digital business people if only they had sufficient speed is nothing without hard empirical evidence of the same. People bandy around claims of 10% productivity gains instantaneously with better broadband – that sort of claim demands empirical proof
  8. At 9’20 Bernard claims that cloud software requires good pipe size – not correct – I use almost entirely cloud based services on a shonky connection over 5km from the nearest exchange
  9. At 14’52” Bernard says that health, media and accounting would somehow move from monopolies to market services with better broadband. None of these services are particularly broadband dependant and using Xero as an example of a monopoly busting global business is just a muddied mixed and confused message
  10. At 15’30” Rob uses his example of a “robotic accountant” – the example he gives is entirely do-able on even dial-up (or heaven forbid) voice
  11. Bernard’s ridiculous assertion at 16’15” that one can’t transmit a 100 page document with anything other than massive pipes is plain wrong. He should try using Zoho some time to prove himself wrong. Also bizarre is his following assertion that a single cable across the Tasman is somehow a major risk for TradeMe (which is primarily a domestic service not requiring international connectivity).
  12. At 19′ Ernie uses online commerce as a reason for better broadband speeds and uses TradeMe as an example – sorry but TradeMe is perfectly accessible over dial-up so the TradeMe use case just doesn’t stack up

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for better connectivity but we need to separate the coverage versus speed discussion – my contention is that widespread coverage is a much more important issue than higher speed

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

3 Comments
  • hear, hear Ben. A good dissection of a poor argument. Thanks for the blow by blow bullshit detector.

    There’s nothing like self interest, nor the thought that nothing can be done without the full blown speed of city broadband.

    There’s a direct optical link to a pipe in the basement at work and believe me it’s just as slow as my weak link out here in Brighton at times. Everything is relative.

  • I call coverage, but more in the accessibility sense. Most of NZ can get ‘broadband’ but they don’t want it at the current rate. Dial-up then becomes the default option for those who want access – the problem with this is it tie up the phone line. The other option is then xDSL where, as noted, most of the potential pipe is under utilised. This ties up cards in the roadside cabinets, increases crosstalk between the operating connections and, in many areas favors the first in, over the customer which an actual need for the bandwidth.
    One solution would be to push neighborhood mesh networks out into New Zealand – only a few backhaul nodes are needed, most general email and websurfing needs are met and, as users want more bandwidth than the mesh can provide, then either a direct DSL line is deployed to the user (who then becomes a new backhaul node) or the content being sourced is brought closer to the edge where it is being consumed.

    Standard disclaimer: The above is my personal opinion.

  • My response to:

    “Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for better connectivity but we need to separate the coverage versus speed discussion – my contention is that widespread coverage is a much more important issue than higher speed”

    is a solid F’IN AYE! 🙂 Having seamless access to the ‘net is incredibly valuable, as long as it’s faster than a given point – and I’d put that point at around half a meg – 50K/s – for a home connection with 2-3 adults.

    This is pretty much what I have at home (in the UK), tho I’m ment to have 250K/s. On this connection, I can browse, get music and videos down from itunes, use BT, use VOIP, etc. Streaming of video (eg iplayer) is the only thing I _can’t_ do.

    So for me, it’s always been the access. Sit down, turn the monitor on, open up email, use it. Dialup, and the action of “connecting to the internet” is where the problem lies. Broadband etc makes that seamless – your PC is the network, or so the Sun tagline went.

    I’ve gotten used to a always on connection tho – we had a always on 56K modem when I first got the ‘net (thanks to ICONZ, who I was working for), the moved to IHUG’s satilite with an ondemand connection, and finally DSL. It’s been a long time since I’d had to dial a modem (or had one)

    I think NZ could do a lot to get people onto broadband – cheap, slower plans (512K/256K DSL) in line with dialup pricing, with free hardware, which most of them do anyway. This is basicly what they do in the UK, and the broadband uptake is about 80%.

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