Electricity company launches broadband telco

Electricity company Counties Power will add telecommunications services to its portfolio with its roll out of fibre and wireless capabilities in the months ahead.

Electricity company Counties Power will add telecommunications services to its portfolio with its rollout of fibre and wireless capabilities in the months ahead.

Counties Power, formerly the Franklin Electric Power Board, has formed a new business unit, Wired Country, to market its wholesale broadband service, according to CEO Neil Simmonds, although he's quick to add that it isn't wholesaling the way the telecommunications industry understands the term.

"We're adopting a model closer to the electrical business than the telco business. We're going to be a provider of the connection, not the content or the product itself."

Wired Country will sell space on its network to ISPs and telcos who will act as retailers for the service.

"We've signed several memorandums of understanding but no, we don't actually have any contracts as yet. We've got agreements to form agreements, if you like."

Simmonds says he can't say how much the project will cost, or who the technology provider will be at this stage, and is also unable to name the technology that will be used for the wireless component of the service.

"We bought spectrum at the recent government auction but we're still two to three weeks away from announcing our final solution."

Simmonds says the company had looked at using WiFi, or 802.11b, however due to its unlicensed nature the service wasn't suitable for end users wishing to run mission critical applications over the network.

The service itself will offer broadband connectivity to both residential and business users alike, ranging in speeds from 1 MBit/s up to 1 GBit/s.

"We're really targeting the provincial New Zealand user. The big telcos will no doubt be servicing the cities and doing it well. We don't want to get mixed up in that."

No pricing structure has been announced yet, although Simmonds says electricity companies are "patient investors" and being community-owned allows Counties Power to work on a longer time frame for investment than many telcos enjoy.

"We serve two purposes with broadband - we can generate a return on investment for our shareholders and also supply a much needed service to them as well."

The first phase of the rollout will start next week, with network capacity being supplied from Pukekohe north to Papakura, although the full-scale of the network could be far more extensive.

"The spectrum licence we bought is a national licence so it would be a shame to use it for only 2% of the population."

Simmonds says he has been talking with other electricity line companies in New Zealand and they're expressing an interest in the concept already.

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