National claims superior broadband plan

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 15:48 24/07/2014
Fairfax NZ

DELIVERY PLAN: David Cunliffe with Labour spokesperson for Communications and Information Technology Clare Curran.

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The Government has hit back at Labour's criticism of its broadband policy, saying its ultrafast and rural broadband initiatives were ahead of schedule.

The Labour Party today promised three contestable funds costing $21.1 million over four years to improve broadband connectivity.

It also wants to investigate the feasibility of assisting a new fibre-optic cable between the South Island and Australia to provide "greater resilience" for the country's broadband networks, "particularly in the circumstance of a natural disaster in the upper North Island".

The two legs of the existing Southern Cross cable, which connects New Zealand to Australia and the United States, both run via Auckland.

Telecom wants to lay a new trans-Tasman cable with partners Telstra and Vodafone, but has touted Raglan or Auckland as its likely landing point,.

Hawaiki Cable hopes to lay a cable between the US, New Zealand and Australia that would land in Whangarei.

"The trick here is to work with the market, rather than crowd it out," Labour leader David Cunliffe said.

One in five people did not have regular access to broadband while only 2 per cent of people had connected to ultrafast broadband, he said.

He singled out the Government's Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) for criticism, saying statistics suggested rural connectivity was "going backwards".

Communications spokeswoman Clare Curran said the party would bring forward a comprehensive review of telecommunications legislation, which is scheduled to kick off by September 2016. It would also separately review the Ultrafast Broadband Initiative and the RBI, she said.

Communications Minister Amy Adams responded that Labour was suggesting "endless reviews" while the Government was "successfully rolling out one of the most transformative investments New Zealand has ever made".

"While Labour likes to talk down the UFB and RBI programmes, the fact is the initiatives are the envy of many countries all over the world," she said.

More than 420,000 homes, businesses, schools and health centres could connect to UFB . Uptake was in line with Government expectations and "overseas experiences", she said

Curran said Labour had not further considered a possible levy on internet providers floated in an accidentally leaked policy document this year, that would subsidise locally produced online content.

The proposal ran into strong opposition from some telecommunications firms, but was supported by a public broadcasting lobby group.

Curran said the levy had been just an "idea", but did not rule it out in Labour's first term.

The three contestable funds proposed by Labour would include a $9.6m fund to help provide low-cost internet access in deprived urban communities and a $6.3m fund to assist community-led initiatives to improve rural broadband. The third $5.2m fund would help provide free internet access in public places, such as libraries.

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