Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Into the matrix?

When the Australian Labor Party was campaigning for the recent election they won, one of their pledges was to dramatically expand broadband internet in that country. Developments now suggest that their plan may be obsolete before it’s even completed.

Scientists at CERN in Switzerland, the home of the Internet, have developed a new network that is 10,000 times faster than typical connections we now call “broadband”. The institute calls the network “the grid” (which immediately made me think “The Matrix”), and it relies on a fibre optic network and faster routing equipment to move massive amounts of data.

This news comes out shortly after the generally moderate New Zealand Institute released a report arguing, essentially, that the broadband backbone in New Zealand should be taken over by a government-owned company, with an eye toward a public-private partnership to run fibre optic cables to 70% of New Zealanders within 10 years.

The Institute points out that private companies are unlikely to make the investment in the so-called “last mile” cabling, running fibre optic cable from the exchange to the home. At present, Telecom New Zealand’s lines unit has some plans to run fibre optic to the cabinet on the street, but apparently has no plans at present to extend that to homes. Electricity lines company Vector is planning a fibre optic network connecting exchanges. Both are steps, but the complete cabling of New Zealand is what’s needed and the New Zealand Institute is the first entity to propose a credible, achievable way forward.

Meanwhile, state-owned telecommunications infrastructure company, Kordia, has announced a joint venture with Australian company Pipe International to lay a new fibre optic undersea cable linking Australia and New Zealand. This cable will also connect New Zealand to the world by joining a cable linking Australia and Guam. This is important because at present New Zealand is dependent on the fibre optic Southern Cross Cable connecting NZ to the US. Apart from the vulnerability issues, the monopoly means that the owners can charge whatever they want (too much) and determine what connection speeds are possible (too slow).

Taken together, these developments, if they’re all realised, could mean that within a decade New Zealand could finally have the Internet infrastructure the country not only deserves, but needs, too. Businesses and individuals alike are sick and tired of waiting for action. Our future depends on moving this all forward.

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