Agreement on tricky UFB connections close

Chorus and the Government are understood to be days away from a new deal on who should pay for connecting homes with awkward access to ultrafast broadband.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen said he believed the so-called ''non-standard'' connection charges could apply to as many as half of all homes in Auckland and Wellington and was adamant consumers should not foot  the bill.

The Government last year agreed to provide Chorus with $929 million in soft loans in return for the company building 70 per cent of the ultrafast broadband (UFB) network, connecting premises when requested by consumers and businesses.

Under that contract, Chorus is able to charge consumers' chosen telecommunications retailers for connecting homes that cannot be reached with a 15-metre trench or 30m aerial cable, and for any more than 5m of internal cabling. The charges are at rates agreed by the Government and could run to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Speaking after the company's annual meeting in Wellington yesterday, chief executive Mark Ratcliffe indicated an announcment was not far away. ''We have considered every option, which is why it has taken a little time to get there, and I think people will be pleased with where we get to. We want to provide some certainty for retail service providers and I think we will be able to do that very soon.''

The Government has previously ruled out putting more money into the UFB scheme, and Chorus is understood to be unwilling to pick up all the non-standard connection costs.

Chorus has agreed to waive the charges until the end of the year, but Brislen said he hoped the solution being finalised would be more than another sticking plaster. ''I'm not talking about people down a long driveway or across a paddock. If you are on a residential street in suburban New Zealand, you should be able to get your connection for free because that is what we were promised.

''It is up to Chorus and Crown Fibre, who negotiated the deal, to work this out,'' he said. ''We are paying for it all through our taxes, anyway. Getting homeowners to pay again would be going back on [National's] original election promise.''

The lobby group would be satisfied if Chorus matched other UFB network builders in ''at least'' meeting the cost of a 30m trench and providing up to 10m of internal cabling, he said.

The Dominion Post