Telecom loses Northland despite 57% coverage

Telecom says a new broadband infrastructure in Northland will be a costly duplication of investments the telco has already made.

Telecom says a new broadband infrastructure in Northland will be a costly duplication of investments the telco has already made.

A new infrastructure is to be built by Walker Wireless and Vodafone, which won the broadband tender put out by the Far North Development Trust (FNDT) and overseen by representatives of government’s Probe broadband deployment project.

“The decision to go to another supplier will mean more costs for the community as the investments we’ve made will be duplicated,” says the Telecom statement, apparently aimed at ensuring Northland people of its continued support.

Telecom’s area sales manager Cameron Bell sees no real contradiction in complaining of duplication of facilities when Telecom has resisted local loop unbundling and told its rivals, notably at Commerce Commission hearings, to build their own networks.

“We’re not precluding anyone from [setting up their own network],” he says. “But if a highway is already there, you can’t deny building another one will be a duplication of cost. That has to be a community decision.”

Asked if Telecom has sunk so much investment in Northland infrastructure why they lost the tender, Bell replies, “That’s the question we’re asking ourselves.”

The FNDT’s answer is that Walker-Vodafone solution gave greater coverage than rival schemes, a commitment to serving the whole community and assurance of scalability.

Figures quoted in Telecom’s own statement show it will only be raising broadband coverage from 57% to 70% of the region by the end of this year.

“Already this year we’ve increased broadband coverage in Northland from 46% to 57%,” says Telecom. “We’ll take that to 58% in July when we upgrade Russell’s exchange. Within 18 months we hope to be able to deliver broadband to more than 90% of the region.”

“We have a very serious intention to serve the people of Northland, and that will continue,” says Bell.

The company points to an investment of $2.7 million in the region during the current financial year as evidence of its commitment. This amount was “only slightly more than we spent there last [financial] year,” says Bell.

“It wasn't a question of our ramping up investment steeply just because of Probe.”

Telecom’s “forward focus” for Northland and other regional, rural and remote areas will be demonstrated with a roadshow to the regions, aimed at stirring up ideas for applications, Bell says.

“We can’t just put in broadband then sit on our hands and let demand drive itself.”

He acknowledges that Telecom might in some instances be making a rod for its own back by showing local people how to use the Walker-Vodafone network productively, but the company has to promote broadband to gain a slice of the market for itself, he says.

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