The National Party has come out with guns blazing over the government’s Telecommunications Bill, saying it doesn’t go far enough in lifting the quality of rural internet access.
According to spokesman Alec Neill, the bill, introduced to Parliament last week, won’t solve the internet access problems of the farming sector, which contributes 50% of export earnings.
Present line quality doesn’t allow farmers to communicate with each other, “let alone the rest of the world”. He says ensuring 99% of New Zealanders get 9.6Kbit/s access, as specified in the bill, is not good enough.
“There must be some compulsion on providers to come up with solutions and answers. Government has an obligation to rural users to ensure they aren’t falling behind because of this infrastructure.”
Neill lays the blame squarely at Telecom’s feet.
“There has been inadequate maintenance and upgrading over the past 10 years, notwithstanding advances in technology.”
Neill says he expects “technology to provide the answer” to many of the problems facing communications providers in remote regions.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s better lines in the ground or satellite dishes or wireless connections; something should be done.
“You can get high-speed internet connections in downtown Wellington but you can’t get it where we need it most, in the backblocks. They are entitled to it, like anyone else.”
Neill says while the National Party supports the government’s new bill “in principle”, it doesn’t go far enough in forcing telecommunications providers to service the regions.
Telecom government and industry relations head Bruce Parkes says the company has already extended the kiwi share obligation to cover data calls.
“We certainly wouldn’t support any further compulsion on the quality of service issue.”
Parkes says it will cost Telecom $100 million to upgrade its network to satisfy the new kiwi share requirements.