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Bill Bennett


Ross Patterson: NZ private sector fibre beats NBN

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CommsDay reports on comments by former telecommunications commissioner Ross Patterson:

New Zealand’s private sector-led approach to its fast broadband deployment is far more likely to achieve a successful outcome than Australia’s publicly funded NBN model.

Patterson is now a partner at legal firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts. At the Sydney CommsDay Summit he said there are reasons a private sector fibre build is more likely to succeed.

He says; “Under public ownership, the cost and the risks of the rollout are borne by the tax payer. Thus it becomes a political issue [and] political responses typically involve time-consuming proposals, reports, policy changes and delays.

Under private ownership, these risks are borne by the private sector participants [which makes it] a commercial issue, not a political one… once a private sector party is contractually committed to the rollout and targets at an agreed price, then short of bankruptcy there’s no going back.”

That last point is probably the most significant. You might expect a public ownership build would be more certain than contracting private companies. Yet, so far, the New Zealand ultra-fast broadband project has proved to be almost bulletproof.

There’s never been much doubt about the UFB project, while the NBN has never looked like a certainty.



4 thoughts on “Ross Patterson: NZ private sector fibre beats NBN

  1. “thus it becomes a political issue” this is so maddening that this could happen to what should be a public utility at this point.

    1. Yes. I’m torn by this. Democracy can be good, it can mean we effectively crowdsource the design of projects and get them right. It can be abused and it can grind almost to a halt.

      There are problems with turning the job over to the private sector, but once the contracts are signed the ball starts rolling and completion becomes inevitable.

      The problem here lies in fixing democracy and government. In the meantime, it’s important to make sure the government part of the process works well before the deal is done.

  2. Bill, there’s no doubt NZ’s fibre is fast (after a week in the Bay of Islands it was so good I wanted to emigrate) and available where needed (for the most part). But be fair: NZ is about the size of Victoria – our second smallest state. We have an enormous country filled with empty space and kangaroos, with 25 million people clinging to the edge. Our broadband – no matter what option, no matter who rolls it out – was always going to be problematic.

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