Hard News by Russell Brown

Rained In

An unusually torpid southerly is blowing and the clouds have laid down over Wellington all day.

Eight and a half thousand people haven’t flown anywhere today. Hundreds of them are still sitting hopefully at the airport, but I’m in Newtown and it’s looking thicker than ever out there to me.

I’ve been in the capital to attend the official launch of CafeNet and to interview the guest speaker, David Isenberg. He’s an intriguing guy; a former AT&T analyst who is now the lead signatory of a letter urging the US government to not only not spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars propping up big telephone companies but to let them fail as fast as possible. He has a bit of that wild-eyed creative destruction vibe.

Isenberg is best known for a 1998 paper, the Rise of the Stupid Network. The best network is a big, fat pipe that “just delivers the bits”, with all the intelligence around the edges, in whatever brilliant or useless devices and services communicate across it. This, unfortunately, is not the way telecommunications is done in a world where big phone companies have a lot invested in a monolithic presence at the centre of the network.

But Isenberg has his proof of concept of a network done right in Wellington’s CityLink. Its fibreoptic network provides hundreds of government agencies, corporates, developers and media companies with huge networking and internetworking capacity. It’s one reason almost all of the country’s best interactive media companies are in Wellington. It makes a nice accompaniment to the post-production powerhouse that has been built with Lord of the Rings.

CafeNet is CityLink’s new WiFi network, with nodes set around the CBD offering high-speed wireless connectivity in and around cafes (obviously), hotels and public buildings. You just connect and sign up.

This vast competitive advantage in the area of bandwidth has come to Wellington not through any particularly expensive or exotic technology – the CityLink people like to refer to their network as being built with Dick Smith components. It’s because a few people had the vision to do it right, even when not many people took them seriously. Good on them.

On the other hand, Wellington is no longer head-office city. Fonterra has announced it is shipping out, leaving 200 employees to decide whether they want to go with it. Meaning, go from the Wellington CBD, with the cafes and the bandwidth, to a glass barn out at Auckland Airport. That’s cruel.

But Auckland is warmer, and I’d rather be with my family there now. But I have a ticket for the Mad Professor and Fat Freddy’s Drop at the new Bodega, I have friends to look after me and I probably have time for a wee lie down. It could be worse.