Crown Fibre says rural responsibilities a practical fit for broadband extension

The government handed over responsibility for the second phase of the rural broadband initiative and mobile black spot fund to the Crown agency last month.

Crown Fibre Holdings' expanded remit for the commercial roll-out of the government's drive to boost rural connectivity is a practical fit with the extended ultra-fast broadband network build, chief executive Graham Mitchell says.

The government handed over responsibility for the second phase of the rural broadband initiative (RBI) and mobile black spot fund to the Crown agency last month, after officials weighed up the efficiency of operating the three schemes under one commercial umbrella, Mr Mitchell told Parliament's commerce committee. The entity is currently assessing tender bids for the second round of the ultrafast broadband network to extend coverage of fibre lines to even more provincial areas, which Mr Mitchell said will inform the agency when it comes to the rural programme.

"They're really practical-type considerations. That's why it's important that we know where we land on UFB2 as a key input on RBI, so we know where some of the fibre is going to be, particularly on backhaul routes," Mr Mitchell said.

That differs from the original UFB and RBI programmes, which he said were "very distinct initiatives" without much overlap.

Five years into the deployment of UFB, the programme is 9% ahead of target with about 44% of New Zealanders able to connect to the network, including 93% of businesses and 95% of schools in urban areas. The government now wants the network to reach 80% of the country's population, up from the original 75% target.

It has also lifted its targeted peak speed for broadband connectivity to at least 50 megabits per second for 99% of New Zealanders by 2025, up from a previous goal of at least 5 Mbps for almost 98% of the country under the original plan. The remaining 1% would get speeds of 10 Mbps.

Because the second phases include linking rural towns to large cities, there was an overlap between the rural and urban initiatives, and Crown Fibre is undertaking geo-spatial mapping to best align the coverage, Mr Mitchell said.

Chairman Simon Allen said he has been an advocate of Crown Fibre being a "very focused organisation" but that the extra duties were a "sensible decision."

Mr Mitchell said the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment will continue to make policy decisions on the broadband plans, with Crown Fibre tasked to oversee the commercial roll-out. He said he expected it would be able to take on the extra duties and remain within its operating budget.

(BusinessDesk)