CityLink vows to put fibre underground

Vector identifies broadband option for Wellington

Citylink has promised it would bury all the fibre-optic cable it hopes to lay to homes and businesses in Wellington after sources predicted an "aerial battle" over Vector's plans to string cable over power poles in Auckland.

Vector has offered to connect all 450,000 homes and premises in Auckland by partnering with the government in its $1.5 billion ultrafast broadband initiative, while CityLink has made a similar bid to connect up homes and businesses in the Wellington region.

Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie says it has offered to discuss extending its fibre roll-out to the capital.

"We have identified an option for Wellington that we are prepared to develop further if required with [government investment vehicle] Crown Fibre Holdings. That is really about how Wellington could leverage off Auckland, recognising we have retained pole access rights and other assets in Wellington."

Mackenzie says much of its fibre in Auckland would be strung overhead on poles and the company does not expect significant opposition. Cables would be coloured "navy-grey" to blend in with the environment, he says.

"It is not like in Wellington or Christchurch, where it is halfway up the pole and pretty ugly. This is carried up among the electricity conductors and you can hardly see it. People are saying, `When can you connect our house?' That is what we see as the sentiment out there."

Auckland Regional Council has expressed concern about the community reaction to overhead cabling in a submission to the Economic Development Ministry, as well as concerns an aerial network would be "less robust" . It wants no new poles, and each application to put up new cable to be considered on a "case by case" basis so the visual impact could be considered.

A source said the council did not want aerial cabling. Aside from possible public opposition, the government wanted the fibre network to last for the best part of 100 years and overhead cabling was a "short-term solution".

CityLink managing director Neil de Wit says its plan in Wellington is for a "100 percent underground network".

A spokeswoman for Communications Minister Steven Joyce says Joyce will be briefed by Crown Fibre Holdings on the responses it has received to the UFB initiative. The Government will retain ultimate control over who Crown Fibre Holdings partners with, by exercising its right as a shareholder to approve any major transactions.

While more information is likely to be made public by bidders, sources suggest it could be several weeks before Crown Fibre Holdings makes any meaningful comment about the proposals it has received. One wild card was potential interest from overseas companies.

One source said that the government would have had a reasonably good idea what to expect from the likes of Telecom, Vector and some of the other bigger players, "but you always like to hope you are going to be surprised when you are waiting for responses like this to come in.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was a number of weeks before anyone was able to say anything at all, other than that they had got a `good level of responses'."

Vector and CityLink are members of the Regional Fibre Group, a loose grouping of electricity lines companies and other infrastructure firms. McKenzie said that while Vector's primary focus was Auckland, other members of the group were focused on their own regions and some had formed consortiums.

The fibre group had put in bids to Crown Fibre Holdings that covered all the 33 towns and cities where the government wanted to lay fibre, plus about another 5 percent of the population, he said.

Telecom has submitted two proposals to partner with the government on the fibre roll-out and said it was open to discussing ''other alternative proposals'', but was tight-lipped about what they were.

''Telecom will submit a powerful proposition that will ensure the fast delivery of a national fibre network with none of the Government's money being wasted through duplicating what is already built,'' chief executive Paul Reynolds said.

One source said the UFB initiative was not developed with Telecom in mind and it was likely to end up competing against fibre companies set up as a result of the scheme.

McKenzie said Vector might have to go back to shareholders before it committed to its fibre roll-out. He would not disclose the likely cost.

''There are a lot of things to be negotiated. Every step of the way we will have to consider if it makes sense for us commercially.''

Mackenzie says members of the Regional Fibre Group have not shared commercial information, but there has been good collaboration on technical matters that will ensure consistent service for delivery of lit fibre. Vector is proposing to lay dark fibre, but is separately considering whether it might also provide a "layer 2" service. Its fibre would be capable of delivering speeds of "gigabits and terabits beyond".

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