InspireNet founder James Watts, who has built a rural fibre network in the Manawatu and Tararua districts, questions whether the government may force all schools – even those already connected to fibre — onto the Rural Broadband Initiative.
“I’m not sure if there will be overbuild of schools with our fibre, I guess in reality, Telecom has had fibre outside most of those schools for at least a decade and never connected it,” he claims. “So the question to ask is will the Government make a new monopoly by forcing schools to connect, or will they leave the market open for schools to choose whose fibre they actually use,” he says.
In 2008 Watts partnered with FX Networks to build an open access fibre backhaul loop connecting Dannevirke and Eketahuna to Palmerston North, with the business case supported by Tararua District Council as its anchor tenant.
He was shut out of the RBI because he is a regional network provider, and he couldn’t participate in Ultra Fast Broadband plan, because InspireNet is a vertically integrated telco – that is, it builds infrastructure and sells services on the same network.
“Imagine if that Chorus advertisement (on television) had said fibre connected to over 1000 schools by Christmas rather than fibre past over 1000 schools by Christmas,” he says. “I think they should be embarrassed about the fact that they haven’t actually connected them in the first place and they are only motivated now when there is government money on the line.”
Watts’ concerns join a growing number of people unhappy with the RBI.
Last week Federated Farmers held a meeting to express concerns about the government plans for rural broadband. It invited Telecom and Vodafone to attend the meeting, and when the telcos failed to turn up, sent a press release blasting them for the no show. Telecom said it didn’t attend because of RBI negotiations. Vodafone was also asked for comment, and it has not yet responded, although in fairness comment was sought on the day of the earthquake last week.