Labour and other Opposition parties are claiming credit for new legislation that they say could accelerate the deployment of broadband fibre in rural areas and is “a game changer to enable immediate regional development opportunities for all of rural New Zealand.”
The new legislation, the Telecommunications (Property Access and Other Matters) Bill gives electricity network operators the right to install fibre optics along their overhead electricity lines across private rural properties.
Labour’s ICT spokesperson, Clare Curran, said: “It overtakes existing government policy and could boost the rural economy much sooner than government broadband policy initiatives would have done.
“The new law also removes barriers for thousands of urban dwellings to connect to ultrafast broadband through a simpler consenting process for those who live down shared driveways or who live or work in a multi-unit dwelling or block.”
This part of the bill empowering the electricity companies was added to the original by the Commerce Committee in an amended proposed last November. Curran said the amendment was revolutionary. “It opens up an important economic opportunity to rural NZ that overtakes existing government policy.”
She said the outcome had been the result of the push from industry, in particular Northland power company Northpower. “It means that rural NZ may be able to access fibre much sooner than the government has provided for, if electricity lines companies take up the opportunity.”
She added: “Labour congratulates Federated Farmers for its willingness to compromise on behalf of private rural landowners to ensure this important infrastructure could be deployed.”
She said the outcome would embarrass the government “[It] is yet to announce the next stage of its rural broadband scheme, which it first announced in 2014,” she said. “The government’s recent announcement of the next stage of its UFB scheme leaves 130,000 New Zealanders outside urban areas having to wait until 2022-24 to get fast fibre.”
Communications minister, Simon Bridges, announced passage of the bill saying it would speed the rollout of broadband Internet services by introducing “a new, simplified consenting process that telecommunications companies must follow when installing modern networks like UFB, in instances where there are multiple interests in a property, for example, shared driveways and common areas of multi-unit complexes.”
He said the changes would “provide better outcomes for an estimated 71,000 households that are currently unable to connect to fibre due to problems obtaining active consent to install it.”
However he failed to make any specific mention of the potential involvement of electricity network operators. His press release said: “The Bill also incentivises telecommunications companies to use lower impact methods of installation where possible to reduce property disruption, and enables the use of existing infrastructure (such as electricity lines) for deploying fibre optic cable in rural areas.”