The woes of Great Barrier Island
Great Barrier Island is one of the greatest places in the world to live. That amazing thing about that statement is that it still holds true after all that gets thrown at the island, or not thrown as the case may be.
There are some major problems that have arisen over the years due to the governance of small isolated populations in New Zealand. They aren’t on purpose, as far as I can tell, they are structural and built into the way we govern to provide fairness, transparency, and prevent corruption for the majority of the population. Note that word, “majority”. What this word means is that if you are a small island community then you get what you are given or nothing at all.
Let’s take roading. There was once upon a time Island based contractors. Actually there still is. The problem is that they can only operate by being hired by the off island contractors who have already taken any profit out of the contract. And, from a high level perspective this looks fine. Auckland council doesn’t want to have to deal with thousands of small contractors so they contract out for the whole of Auckland. But, there are only two contractors big enough to tender for Auckland. Those two contractors are Fulton Hogan and Downers. One of those companies always ends up with the contract. Unfortunately, each of them is only big enough to do half the job so they hire the other one to do the rest of it. So which ever company wins the negotiations for the contract, the same companies end up doing the contract and then there is a private negotiation between them over who gets to do what parts of the contract. On Great Barrier we currently have Fulton Hogan.
So there we go. Lets say Downers wins the contract undercutting Fulton Hogans bid, then there is the negotiation where Fulton Hogan gets to do the work on the Barrier. So now Downers is taking a slice of the profit, and then Fulton Hogan is taking another slice of the profit and down it comes to the Barrier where they hire at the cheapest rate possible the same group of people and machinery they did before. That’s stupid from an Island perspective, but perfectly sensible from the Council one.
The same thing happened with the Rural Broadband Initiative. Chorus and Vodafone got the contract, they divided the contract between them and Vodafone got Great Barrier Island. The Island was then approached with Vodafone’s solution to increasing broadband on the Barrier and were told that if we didn’t take it then there would be no investment at all. Added to this, a lot of people wanted to be able to use cell phones on the island so they voted for the tower or nothing solution on the basis that if it didn’t improve broadband at least tourists would be able to answer their phones.
The problem is that Vodafone’s solution isn’t a good solution on the Island. It should never have been chosen, especially as a way to enable people to use their cell phones (Yes, I know technically cell phones use the Internet but it is a limited usage). For the same amount of money almost the entire Island could have had fibre optic and an energy efficient exchange instead of a cell tower that uses a huge amount of solar panels and then runs generators at night. The fibre network would have enabled the island fit for purpose broadband for maybe twenty years into the future whereas the cell tower has power constraints meaning that when we go to 5g or 6g (or whatever future may hold) the tower will either require increases in power supply (more generators at night) or decreases in transmission area (less people with broadband).
Finally, the added traffic from the tower is going through the existing (old) network, degrading the broadband for those on the wired network to a sometimes unusable state. It would be interesting if someone could find out whether we have actually had a net increase in the amount of broadband at all, or if we have just devided the existing pie amongst another two hundred(?) connections.