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Fibre Watch: Stop the head-banging

14 Apr 2011

"Hear Our Voices We Entreat,” was the emotive headline on a full-page newspaper ad trumpeting the findings of TelstraClear’s survey on the public’s feelings about the government’s ultra fast broadband plans.

One of the key findings from the poll that TelstraClear wants the Government to hear is that the majority of the public (73%) are opposed to the so-called "regulatory holiday” it plans to give UFB providers through until 2019.

Meanwhile, another initiative aimed at making the government listen to concerns about its telco reforms arrived this week in the form of a new band of 11 businesses and lobby groups that have united to oppose the plans

Sadly, these and other efforts to get the government to rethink the contents of the Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill and the associated Supplementary Order Paper, seem unlikely to have any impact.

Communications Minister Steven Joyce has made it clear on numerous occasions he’s not interested in addressing the industry’s concerns about the bill. He won’t be hearing their voices no matter how much entreating goes on.

Rather than continuing to butt their collective heads against brick walls, perhaps it’s time for the industry activists to rethink their approach.

Last weekend’s TelstraClear newspaper ad claimed: "NZ wants Ultra Fast Broadband, Let’s get it right”. But is that statement even correct?

According to the company’s own survey, 55% of those polled said they would prefer spending on the UFB initiative to be postponed to free up money to rebuild Christchurch.

And even if we want the UFB, apparently many of us aren’t prepared to pay for what it will deliver.

Buried in the findings of the survey was an interesting revelation. Asked how much they would be prepared to pay per month to access UFB services at home, 22% of respondents said they would not be willing to pay any more than they currently do for broadband. A further 25% said they would cough up no more than an extra $10 a month.

This must give the industry cause for concern. Perhaps it’s time it turned its focus away from lobbying politicians and towards a public education campaign on the benefits of decent broadband.

TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis raised a valid point at last week’s TelCon 11 conference: too much anti-government whinging can be counterproductive.

"If you look back at the annals of history,” Ellis said, "when major corporates start running ads saying government is doing bad things to us, the citizen response generally is: ‘Well, if it’s pissing business off then it must be good for us, therefore I support the Government’.”

That’s an observation the industry would do well to heed.