National lines up 35 more towns for UFB

At least a further 200,000 New Zealanders will get ultrafast broadband if National is re-elected, the Government has announced.

National communications spokeswoman Amy Adams said the footprint of the fibre-optic cable network would be extended from the original target of 75 per cent of the country to a new target of 80 per cent. The cost would be between $152 million and $210m.

Labour communications spokeswoman Clare Curran dismissed the plan as "blatant broadband pork barrelling".

"Instead of addressing the real issues of the woeful inefficiency of Chorus in rolling out ultrafast broadband and its desperate attempts to keep copper prices high along with the low uptake of UFB by households, National has merrily announced it will broaden its scheme to parts of New Zealand where it wants and needs more votes," she said.

Adams said it was possible the extra funding over above the current $1.35 billion UFB funding cap might stretch further.

"If I can take that money and go beyond the additional 200,000 New Zealanders, then great."

The extended programme would be funded from the Future Investment Fund, which was established in 2012 as a vehicle to reinvest the proceeds from the sale of state sector assets such as minority stakes in Genesis, Meridian and Mighty River Power into schools, health, transport and science and innovation projects.

InternetNZ spokesman David Cormack welcomed the proposal and said it was "even better" the money would come out of the Future Investment Fund.

"We would expect that this money wouldn't just go straight to Chorus. A contestable fund seems sensible to us," he said.

Adams named 35 towns she said would be "strong contenders" to join the existing 33 cities and towns getting UFB. They included some larger towns such as Westport and Picton.

She hoped the additional towns would get UFB by the same time the existing roll-out was completed at the end of 2019.

The UFB programme was the "most ambitious communications infrastructure programme in the world, given our low population density", Adams said.

"The list of additional towns to receive fibre to the home, and the order of rollout, will be determined following a competitive bid process, which will take into account the cost of deployment, strength of consumer demand, and regulatory and other assistance from local authorities."

Adams had appeared to downplay the possibility of widening the UFB network last month after announcing a proposed $150m boost to the alternative Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), which is funding improvements to copper and wireless broadband in areas not covered by the UFB scheme.

Chorus has already indicated a willingness to consider pitching for the additional UFB work.

Adams said she had also received an expression of interest from Northpower, which this year completed the roll-out of ultrafast broadband in Whangarei, and the work would also be open to new providers that hadn't so far been involved in the roll-out of UFB.

The idea of extending the network had been in play for some months, she said.

Labour has promised to review both the UFB and RBI schemes.

The towns named by Adams as strong contenders for UFB are: Te Puke, Motueka, Morrinsville, Kerikeri, Huntly, Thames, Matamata, Otaki, Kawerau, Waitara, Kaitaia, Dannevirke, Alexandra, Stratford, Whitianga, Cromwell, Taumarunui, Picton, Foxton, Kaikohe, Marton, Te Kuiti, Katikati, Temuka, Waihi, Waipukurau, Warkworth, Carterton, Dargaville, Opotiki, Snells Beach, Te Aroha, Wairoa, Paeroa and Westport.

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