Ultra Fast Broadband on hold?

Updated: ICT Minister's office replies to claims by InternetNZ the fibre rollout could be delayed

InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar says its organisation has heard that the government may call a halt the Ultra Fast Broadband initiative following last week’s earthquake in Christchurch.

“We recognise that the Government has to make some tough economic choices. There are reports that the Government is considering scrapping or delaying the UFB initiative. While it is still too early to understand the shape of changes to come, we hope that the balancing and prioritisation will see funding for the UFB retained. It is critical for our longer-term future,” Kumar writes in a joint media statement with the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID).

When Computerworld phoned Kumar, to ask where he had received the information that the $1.5 billion UFB might be on hold, he said it was from various sources, none of which he named. "At this point it would probably be at the level of speculation, as opposed to any hard news."

Kumar said he had not spoken to ICT Minister Steven Joyce.

The joint press release also suggests that the UFB initiative be fast-tracked in Canterbury. Currently the agency responsible for UFB, Crown Fibre Holdings, is weighing up whether to partner with Enable Networks or Telecom in Christchurch. UFB is a 10 year rollout, so those areas in which a partnership has already been negotiated – for example Whangarei – are among the first to receive funding. The CFH model is that once the private partner acquires customers and uses that income to increase its share in the Local Fibre Co, CFH will take that money and reinvest it in another region.

But Kumar says that as roading has been disrupted by the earthquake now is the time to lay fibre in Chrischurch, before roads are resealed.

“Hard times call for smart decisions. For example, one path forward is to treat Christchurch in the Government’s UFB (Ultra Fast Broadband) initiative as a special case and include it in the wider recovery efforts. That way the fibre rollout can be coordinated with other aspects of building a new Christchurch."

In the joint press release NZCID CEO Stephen Selwood calls for a “measured and balanced response to the Christchurch earthquake” and says it is not the time for “knee jerk cutbacks to an agreed investment programme for Christchurch or the nation as a whole.”

“Investment in productive infrastructure, including high speed broadband is a fundamental platform of the government's growth agenda, as is building high quality transport connections into and within our major cities. Rather than cut back on infrastructure that will be the very foundation of our future cities, we must find a way to fund the investment for growth which, in the long run, will make us even stronger in the face of adversity.”

UPDATED

ICT Minister Steven Joyce has been in Christchurch today, however a spokeswoman from his office has emailed the following comment to Computerworld:

"The government's infrastructure plans are crucial for achieving stronger economic growth, and that remains the case. However the recovery of Christchurch is also crucial and it will be a top priority.

Crown Fibre Holdings work is continuing and I expect to see more announcements from them this month.

Decisions on timing are made by CFH based on the progress of their negotiations."

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