The schedule for completing New Zealand's rural broadband programmes has been brought forward a year, and is now due for completion in 2021, communications minister Clare Curran has announced.
“We are listening to feedback from businesses and from people who live in and travel to our most rural and remote areas, and they want more clarity around when their connectivity will improve. I want people to know they don’t have to wait until the end of 2022,” she says.
There are two programmes - the Rural Broadband Initiative Phase Two (RBI2), which will deliver broadband to regions which have the lowest rates of access and the Mobile Black Spot Fund (MBSF) build, which will provide mobile coverage to around 1,000 kilometres of state highway and in over 100 tourism locations.
Crown Infrastructure Partners is managing the contractual arrangements for both programmes and has entered into contracts with the Rural Connectivity Group (Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees) and with a number of Wireless Internet Service Providers to deliver the programmes.
The Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) completed its first tower under RBI2 and MBSF in Haast in the West Coast, earlier this month.
The RBI2 and MBSF programmes are mainly funded by the Telecommunications Development Levy (TDL), “a levy paid by telcos, with some of the programme funded privately by the three mobile operators Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees,” says Curran.
“Funding for a $105 million RBI2/MBSF expansion comes from Crown Infrastructure Partners’ funds and announcements will be made in the coming months on the outcome of the RBI2/MBSF expansion process, which is currently underway.”
In addition, Curran says rural communities not covered by these programmes can apply for resources under the $1 billion Provincial Growth Fund, which is overseen by Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones.
Curran says that four regions - Tairāwhiti/East Coast, Tai Tokerau/Northland, the West Coast, and Manawatū-Whanganui – are targeted for increased investment through a Provincial Growth Fund ‘surge’ effort and they also overlap with work on delivering faster broadband to rural and remote communities through RBI2.
“The basis of a digital economy is universal access to efficient and cost effective broadband for all corners and communities in New Zealand. This government intends to grow ICT to be the second largest contributor to GDP by 2025 so we have to start the work now to close the digital divides,” says Curran.