WASHINGTON, July 22, 2011 – Broadband experts examined whether New Zealand’s ‘Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative’ contained lessons that could be applied to the U.S.’ own broadband situation Tuesday at a New America Foundation Panel (NAF).
Panelist Blair Levin, Communications and Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute and one of the primary authors of the National Broadband Plan, exhibited confidence in America’s broadband future.
“The achievement that [New Zealand] will accomplish we’re going to achieve without spending any government dollars,” said Levin.
While the success of achieving the stated goals of the National Broadband Plan – originally published in March of 2010 – is contingent upon voluntary private sector participation through investment of dollars and innovation upon existing cable networks, the plan was first initiated by Congressional mandate in 2009 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Under ARRA, $7.2 billion was appropriated towards investments in improving broadband infrastructure in the form of federal loans and grants, according to Recovery.gov. While investments called for by the National Broadband Plan are privately funded, significant upgrades to U.S. broadband infrastructure have already been publicly funded.
Panelist and speaker Graham Mitchell, CEO of Crown Fiber Holdings Limited (CFH), presented to a room of industry experts at NAF’s L-Street headquarters New Zealand’s version of the U.S. National Broadband Plan, the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative. New Zealand’s plan – which involved a $1.5 billion NZ dollar investment from the government – seeks to bring broadband connections of 100 Mbps downstream and 50 Mbps upstream to more than 3 million people – 75 percent of the population – by 2019, stated Mitchell during the presentation.
Akamai Technologies – a company that monitors Internet conditions – ranked New Zealand’s Internet speed 27th fastest of 45 countries in its 2010 fourth quarter “State of the Internet” report, while the U.S. was ranked 5th and Russia ranked 1st. In 2009, Oxford University’s Said Business School ranked New Zealand 32th of 40 countries in its Broadband Leadership Score, while the U.S. ranked 15th.
The NZ government established CFH to manage the government’s direct investment and work to achieve the goals of the plan through the creation of a new broadband infrastructure. The investment subsidizes the private sector in New Zealand to deploy fiber throughout the country.
By comparison Broadband.gov, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) website detailing the U.S. National Broadband Plan, states a goal to bring download speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 100 million American homes by 2020. According to Census.gov, between 2005-2009 there were approximately 112 million U.S. households. Under the National Broadband Plan, nearly 89 percent of U.S. homes would have access to faster broadband speeds.
The FCC’s National Broadband Plan, however, leverages the existing cable infrastructure readily accessible in American homes. Panelist Joanne Hovis, President of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, worried that this part of the plan would lead to the U.S. falling behind other nations in terms of broadband speed and quality.
“Why are other countries doing something that we’re not? They’re building something that is future proof and upgradeable, and we’re not,” said Hovis. “We’re relying on systems that were built in the 1970s, and at the time, nobody else had it.”
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