Chorus rates skills shortage biggest challenge

Already, it's hard to find resources to push Telecom's massive cabinetisation programme, says CEO

The CEO of Telecom’s network company, Chorus, says it is arguable that New Zealand is more advanced in telecommunications than is acknowledged.

Mark Ratcliffe says what we have got is “not perfect, but not that bad”. He says Telecom’s CEO, Paul Reynolds, found that New Zealand’s broadband infrastructure was not as good as London’s, but better than that found in some other parts of the UK.

“What is good enough?”, Ratcliffe asks. “We’ll always want more than we’ve got for less than we are paying for it. That’s human nature.”

Ratcliffe says we are behind when compared to densely populated urban centres, but then we don’t have any.

“Hardly anybody lives in highrises,” he says.

Ratcliffe says he is proud of what Chorus is doing in driving fibre to the node, saying it is something few other countries have done.

“It will lay the foundation for broadband and fibre to the home for those that can afford it,” he says.

Ratcliffe rates the shortage of skilled workers as his biggest challenge as both political parties ramp up their promises of broadband investment. Labour’s plan is relatively specific, he says, and Telecom is involved in some fibre submissions with local communities in rural areas.

He says if the National Party is elected, Chorus will do what it can. It is already hard to find resources to push Telecom’s massive cabinetisation programme and any further builds will draw upon the same talent pool unless people and equipment can be brought in from overseas.

Otherwise, he says, the company is not equipped to absorb another few hundred million dollars worth of projects.

Ratcliffe says it is really clear to Chorus that broadband is a key plank in National policy alongside broader infrastructure commitments. He says a public-private approach is a good idea, but the key is in the detail.

Ratcliffe agrees there hasn’t been enough focus on apprenticeships and training within the telecommunications industry during years of downsizing, but now that the industry is ramping up again both of Chorus’ network partners, Transfield and Downer, are running apprenticeship schemes locally.

Understanding the impacts of the two parties’ proposals on fibre is another challenge. Ratcliffe says he is not sure what “open access”, a term featuring in the policies, really means. Chorus, he says, provides equivalent access to all players to its networks and “that is about as open as you can get”.

Other interpretations could mean access to conduits or access to dark fibre, he says.

Ratcliffe says equivalence of access sounds sensible, but he warns there is no way Chorus would write a business case for new networks to be delivered to others at marginal cost.

In amongst all the other challenges, Chorus has had a tough year keeping its network running because of the weather. Ratcliffe says usually there will be one or two regions hit by torrential rain or high wind during winter. This year, however, almost every part of the country has been affected. But he is also sanguine about that.

“It’s what we do,” he says.

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