Rural broadband to break through backhaul roadblock

Steven Joyce announces rural broadband targets, strategy

Communications and IT Minister Steven Joyce has announced coverage targets for the roll out of broadband to rural communities.

Within six years he expects over 80 percent of rural households to have access to broadband with speeds of at least 5Mbit/s, with the remainder to achieve speeds of at least 1Mbit/s.

Meanwhile, 93 percent of rural schools will receive fibre delivering speeds of at least 100Mbit/s, with the remaining seven percent to achieve speeds of at least 10Mbit/s.

"Around half of rural households are coping with dial up speeds currently and that's not good enough in the 21st century," Joyce says in a statement released today.

"Providing fibre to the vast majority of rural schools will effectively deliver the capacity to provide faster broadband to the communities they serve. Fibre backhaul is currently the primary limiting factor in the delivery of rural broadband and getting fibre to schools will address that."

Getting fibre backhaul into rural area will also allow other technologies, such as wireless and cellular, to play a larger role in rural New Zealand.

Joyce said the initial focus will be on areas that will not benefit from Telecom's fibre-to-the-node upgrades.

"Telecom's current programme will get us from 75 percent to 84 percent. The new challenge will be delivering fast broadband beyond the 84% and delivering fibre to the majority of rural schools," he says.

Joyce expects the rural policy to cost around $300 million to be delivered through a mix of public and private funding.

More announcements about the government's broadband investment programme can be expected shortly, the minister days.

InternetNZ welcomed the announcement today. Spokesperson Jordan Carter says the tighter roll-out timetable for rural areas is reasonable given the importance of the rural community to the New Zealand economy.

"Speeds of 100Mbit/s will provide for opportunities such as virtual education, greater sharing of educational resources and enhanced multimedia usage. Given that it is fibre, it is upgradable to faster speeds and we can imagine significant change in how education may be delivered."

However, he said the annoucement also raised some questions, including the balance of public and private funding for the estimated $300 million cost, which InternetNZ understands is in addition to the government's existing $1.5 billion commitment to fast broadband.

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