National $270m broadband boost announcement meets mixed response

Prime Minister Bill English was in Hamilton for the second time in a week on Wednesday to announce a $270 boost to the ...

Prime Minister Bill English was in Hamilton for the second time in a week on Wednesday to announce a $270 boost to the country's connectivity.

National will invest $270 million to help rural and small communities across New Zealand connect to faster internet.

The investment will also expand mobile coverage to isolated tourist hotspots. 

But residents of rural Waikato towns have mixed opinions about such progress.

AoNet Broadband is one of many internet providers to secure contracts with Crown Fibre Holdings for the expansion of ...

AoNet Broadband is one of many internet providers to secure contracts with Crown Fibre Holdings for the expansion of broadband network. Under the latest announcement, the King Country company will install the first radio site, as pictured, next month.

Prime Minister Bill English announced a plan to connect 60,000 homes and businesses by 2022, at Hamilton's Mystery Creek on Wednesday.

Across the country the plan means another 74,000 rural homes and businesses will be connected to rural high-speed broadband, and mobile coverage will be expanded over 1000km of highway and 100 tourist hotspots. The plan will advance the ultra fast broadband rollout by two years. 

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English said he chose Waikato to make the announcement, as the region demonstrated the ultra-fast broadband investment's reach.
Port Waikato, Karapiro and Waihou are among the 23 Waikato towns in which 156,000 residents will be connected to ultra-fast broadband.

Another 12,500 Waikato residents will be connected to rural broadband.

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In Port Waikato, resident Caroline Hurst said high-speed broadband was the least of the coastal town's concerns. 

The road into the town is pot-holed and frequently floods, a considerable number of the town's lights are dark at night and their beach has lost 16 metres to erosion in the past year. 

"For us residents living out here I think ultra-fast broadband would be the least of the things that we would like.

"We're quite happy with just getting just a phone signal here, let alone having broadband signal."

On the other side of the Waikato, Waihou Tavern duty manager Brock Brickley​ said a better connection to the small town would be a good thing. 

"Our TAB keeps going offline all the time, we've got to keep starting it."

At Wednesday's announcement, English said New Zealand had jumped from number 26 to 11 in the OCED's connectivity ranking, and aims to be in the top five by 2020.

"It's going faster than expected, it's essentially costing less, and the uptake is stronger from New Zealand households."

In total, $130 million will go to extend ultra-fast broadband and $140 million for rural broadband and mobile coverage of rural highways. 

English said every dollar had been accounted for and National was not over-promising. 

Capital earned in the initial stages of the ultra-fast broadband rollout will make up $240 million of the funding, and the remaining $30 million from the Telecommunications Development Levy. 

This is on top of $150m already allocated for rural broadband and mobile coverage.

National began linking homes to the ultra-fast broadband network, which uses fibre optic cables, in 2010.

English claimed it was “one of the largest and most successful infrastructure projects New Zealand has ever seen”.

Earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister made a campaign stop at BBC Technologies, which grades, packages and exports blueberries for the international market. 

“There is no doubt that ultra-fast broadband helps a business like that which is all about its ability to manage complex global supply chains.”

Both Vodafone chief Russell Stanners and Chorus chief Kate McKenzie spoke at the announcement and pledged their support.

Crown Fibre Holdings, soon to become Crown Infrastructure Partners, will manage the contracts with network providers such as AoNet broadband.

The King Country company has already secured a contract and will install its first radio site next month.

Communications minister Simon Bridges said the Mobile Black Spot Fund would put 1000km of State Highway, including the Far North and West Coast, on the mobile coverage map.

This would make for safer highways, he said. 

Coverage will also be extended to more than 100 high-profile tourist spots, and expand opportunities to post selfies online. 

"The market research we've seen, in particular to Asian tourists, but for all tourists, is really clear. When they get into these places, whether it's the Milford Sound,  Abel Tasman or Cape Reinga, they want to upload their selfies at that point in time."

In the Waikato, nine state highways and 10 tourist spots will receive the new 4G mobile coverage.

Labour ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran said she doubted the ultra-fast broadband roll-out could be completed by 2022.

The rural broadband initiative was "largely a policy from 2014 dressed up to look up bigger than it is", she said. 

 - Stuff

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