Who would be a government at a time of rapid technological change? Everybody wants the infrastructure to be "state of the art" but the meaning of that phrase becomes less clear when you are responsible for spending a great deal of money on it. How well proven is the state of the art? How long before it is superseded by something else?

The Government has disappointed Federated Farmers and probably many others with its decision to enter negotiations with Vodafone and Telecom to build a $285 million rural broadband network. While country schools would be connected to Telecom's network with fibre cable, households and businesses would have slower copper wire to the fibre network, or receive wireless broadband from cellphone towers connected to the fibre.

Unsuccessful bidders accuse the Government of choosing old "3G" (third generation) technology and claimed faster "4G" wireless networks were already being planned in Australia, India, China and the United States. The Communications Minister, Steven Joyce, said the 4G wireless system was not tried and tested and he preferred a safer bet.

His view is supported by a telecommunications academic at Massey University, Richard Harris, who has said 4G has "additional complexities" that raise a question about its reliability. New Zealand would do better to wait, he believes, and watch how it performs in neighbouring countries.

But a conservative view is often not the safest. The rural broadband network will take six years to build. Within six years anything is possible. Investment on this scale requires some daring and careful timing. Governments are capable of being daring when they are spending public money without need of a rapid payback, but they are not as adept at timing. Election cycles tend to loom large in their consideration.

The Government needs to be able to show some progress on its promised broadband initiatives before the election in November. Mr Joyce has quite properly taken his time assessing options and bids but if that state of the art is in flux this may not be the time to commit the taxpayer to copper connections for farms and other rural dwellers.

He is not the only one in the Cabinet who must grapple with technological change. The Minister of Education recently faced a public suggestion that laptops should become standard issue in schools. Some schools are taking their own initiative on this but many parents cannot afford to equip their children at their own cost and some sponsorship will be needed. Not all schools may be able to find sponsors, state provision may become a pressing demand.

There is no question the internet has made computers a vital educational tool, not just for research but for assignments, messages and marking too. A portable laptop is now probably more useful than the texts and exercise books in a pupil's bag. But the cost of providing them, and no doubt too often replacing them, would be fearful for the education budget. And how long before laptops are obsolete? Already an iPad might be a better bet.

That decision becomes more timely as the Government concentrates its rural broadband initiative on schools, aiming to connect 93 per cent to fibre, and pushes ahead with its aim of ultra-fast broadband for 75 per cent of the population within 10 years.

A survey by the Economist last week ranked New Zealand's plan only 10th among other countries' schemes for projected speeds, coverage, competition and the strain on public accounts. Mr Joyce remains confident he is picking a winner. Time could make a fool of anyone at this pace.