Auckland City Council continues to grapple with the issue of how to drag the nation's largest city into the 21st century, broadband-wise.
The council has worked out that having fibre and Wi-Fi networks across Auckland is a good thing. To quote a request for information (RFI) document released in June to solicit interest in getting a Wi-Fi network off the ground: "The council has resolved to become more proactive in the broadband space."
It goes on to explain it wants to have "a catalytic effect enabling the market to operate in a manner which ensures the delivery of more affordable broadband for most Auckland residents by September 2010".
It seems the council wants to champion the economic, productivity and lifestyle-enhancing benefits of broadband, but, um, doesn't have the cash for the infrastructure.
Its RFI was aimed at flushing out "a partner, who it can assist to design, own, install and operate a Wi-Fi network" in the central city and the fringes of the CBD.
The same RFI document described Auckland as: "First to see the light of day, two hours ahead of Sydney ... , four hours ahead of Singapore ... 17 hours ahead of New York ... and years ahead of the game ... "
That description was too much for technology business veteran and CallPlus chairman Malcolm Dick, who happened to read it soon after a trip to Singapore.
Singapore's media, he recounts, have recently been complaining the republic risks losing its status as a leading Asian commerce hub because only 70 per cent of households have broadband, which runs at a paltry 100 megabits per second (100Mbit/s). It is being left in the dust by Hong Kong, which has near 100 per cent household broadband penetration and speeds of 1000Mbit/s.
New Zealand, by comparison, had 14 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants at the end of last year, according to the OECD. Most of us get access speeds of between 0.3Mbit/s and 3Mbit/s through Telecom's congested ADSL network.
Dick responded to the council's RFI and sent a copy to the media.
"As an experienced business person in telecommunications services I can see that the concept proposed - while well-intentioned - will not come close to providing a world-class Wi-Fi network," he told the council.
"Building Wi-Fi networks of the sort proposed are simply not a viable commercial project. I have looked at business models to deploy one for several years now, and there are always better projects to attract any spare capital that we have, with lower risk."
Dick said the RFI implied the council "will be doing an exclusive deal with one operator", which would further inhibit the development of broadband in Auckland.
"It is time for Auckland City to ... fund the development of a proper Wi-Fi network in Auckland. As an Aucklander who doesn't want his kids to bugger off overseas permanently, I would like to propose a different structure that is a donation of infrastructure by CallPlus, and a donation of establishment costs by Auckland City."
Dick's proposal is that if the council commits to investing a maximum of $2.5 million, CallPlus will build and run a network of up to 1000 Wi-Fi hotspots.
"This is a no-risk option for Auckland City for a fraction of the cost overruns on this year's infrastructure projects," he says.
The council's RFI drew 11 responses. Let's hope CallPlus has not been alone in responding creatively.