I’ve been having some interesting correspondence about broadband issues with Adrienne Staples, mayor of our local South Wairarapa District Council. When I wrote my letter to the Dominion Post recently (essentially the same as my last blog post), I copied it to her and asked what she was doing about the situation.
Back came a classic politician’s non-answer: “Please rest assured I am lobbying for our interests on this both through Local Government NZ and also through my direct government contacts.” When I pressed her for details of this lobbying work, she admitted she’d done nothing at all – at least not until I’d prompted her:
“I’m sorry John but no we didn’t put in a submission. Such things require resolutions of Council and this caught us on the hop. I have to admit I knew nothing of it until your email and reading it in the paper. I have been working through my contacts in Local Gov NZ and also John Hayes [local MP]. A good many rural areas in NZ are in the same position.”
At least she fessed up in the end. One wonders how many other local authorities, which should have been looking after the interest of their regions, have sat on their fannies out of ignorance and made no submissions on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) discussion paper.
Adrienne got an answer from John Hayes and sent it on to me. It was a snow job from start to finish. Hayes is not batting on behalf of his constituents, none of whom, apart from those in Masterton, are included in the UFB programme.
I responded to Adrienne re the Hayes email as follows:
Hi Adrienne – thanks for forwarding John Hayes’s letter. Let’s look at some of the things Hayes said:
“You have raised a number of issues that are simply wrong. For example the assertion that ”no SWDC citizens are programmed to get ultrafast broadband (UFB)” ………this overlooks the fact it will be in every swdc school by 2016; and also the assertion that ‘they are likely to have to pay unjustifiably high prices for second-best copper broadband’.”
Hayes is splitting hairs and being disingenuous. Yes, it’s true: some SWDC citizens are programmed to get broadband. But it’s only schools, and they represent a tiny minority of South Wairarapa internet connections. Good for them, but the vast majority of citizens, in their homes and businesses, are not programmed to get UFB.
And yes – the rest of us are ‘paying unjustifiably high prices for second-best copper broadband’. Two things there. First, copper broadband, whether DSL or VDSL, is indeed second-best. No argument about that. If Hayes thinks copper is just as good, why is the Government spending billions on a UFB programme?
Second, we are paying unjustifiably high prices for copper broadband. This was established by the independent Commerce Commission in its draft recommendation last December. They recommended that wholesale copper prices should fall, by more than half. Following lobbying from Chorus, which was seeking a huge financial windfall, John Key and others in the Government have disputed the Commerce Commission figures. But neither of them have produced information to support their contention. We are supposed to take it on faith.
It should be noted that New Zealand’s telecoms and IT communities and commentators side with the Commerce Commission. They include the Covec economic consultancy which has specialised in telecommunications matters.
“Chorus made a submission to the Government which recommends that the copper price should increase. This information is now being presented as if it is a decision of the Government. It is not. The Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Amy Adams, said today in a Press Statement this it is not an option being considered by the Government and no decision has been made in the area of copper pricing.”
How can Hayes (a) say copper price increases are not being considered by the Government, yet (b) say and “no decision has been made in the area of copper pricing?”
If there’s been no decision on pricing, the way remains open for the Government to increase prices, as much as stick to the status quo. But it’s important to remember that even the status quo appears to be overpriced and the Government is ignoring the advice of its independent watchdog.
For political reasons, the Government may indeed back off from copper price increases, retain the status quo, and hope we’re grateful because things could have been worse.
But remember that the Government is seeking to ignore and sideline the independent watchdog over pricing, in what is inherently a monopoly situation. This would remove any possibility of competitive benefit for those who are not in the UFB scheme.
That would make second-class citizens of people in the SWDC area, other than a few schools. Second-class citizens who would be paying over the odds for second-best copper broadband to subsidise UFB take-up in the rest of the country.
Adrienne – I’m sure you will be appreciate that John Hayes’s letter is little better than a snow job. You, and other rural/small town councils, need to keep the pressure on.