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$100m govt investment in second Pacific cable urged

A co-founder of Pacific Fibre says a $100m government investment, as proposed by the Green Party, would have saved the project

A $100 million cornerstone government investment like that proposed by the Green Party in a second Pacific fibre-optic link, would have enabled Pacific Fibre to go ahead, says Lance Wiggs, co-founder of the now defunct second-cable venture.

The talented people discovered and recruited in the course of trying to stack up Pacific Fibre are still available, Wiggs says. "We learned a terrific amount", the business model is still valid and the presence of a major investor willing to look more than a few years ahead for a payback is likely to make the vital difference to a hypothetical "PF2", he says.

Wiggs was speaking at the launch of a Green discussion paper on ICT -- not a final policy, says co-leader Russel Norman -- which sees a second trans-Pacific cable as one of three vital elements to encouraging a thriving ICT industry in New Zealand.

A $100m investment in a second cable would be 0.8 percent of the $12 billion the government is spending on motorways, Norman says. For the sacrifice of 3.3 kilometres of motorway this would ensure a trans-Pacific fibre-optic link as an alternative to the Southern Cross cable, with consequent beneficial impact on competition, telecommunications pricing and the lifting of data caps for business and individual users, he suggests.

A thriving ICT industry would be a vital plank of a green economy, combining high income and job growth with low impact on environmental resources, Norman says.

The ICT industry is nearly seven times as big by revenue as mining, a sector the current National-led government is bent on encouraging, he says and it is about five times as big in job potential.

The other two main strands of the Green proposal are reform of public-sector ICT procurement, and other initiatives in education and training, together with commitment to the exclusion of patents on software, to encourage the growth of New Zealand's ICT "talent pool".

Echoing a core proposal from a procurement reform workshop coordinated by lobby organisation NZRise, the Green Party proposes that government agencies be "required to consider the wider economic benefit to New Zealand of supporting the local ICT industry when making purchase decisions."

The Greens propose government agencies should be required to use open standards for new ICT projects -- that is standards that anyone can access, implement and influence, rather than their being under the control of one vendor or a limited group of vendors. This makes it easier to interoperate with other applications. Agencies should use open-source software "where possible", says the discussion paper.

The UK government had enunciated such ideals, but earlier this year modified them to accommodate the reality of the large market share held by proprietary providers. Norman says he hopes a pure open-standards position will be possible for the NZ government, but acknowledges there may have to be some concession in the proprietary direction here too.


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