UFB connection numbers accelerate

Taking over the UFB is Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media and Government Digital Services Minister Clare Curran.

A record 47,049 premises were connected to UFB fibre in the June quarter, according to the Ministry of Business’ latest Broadband Deployment Update.

That makes it the biggest UFB quarter ever in terms of total connections, though not in percentage terms (in the December quarter last year, there was 12.2% growth, albeit off a smaller base).

Overall, of the 1.2 million who are now within reach of UFB fibre (mostly laid by Chorus), 460,096 (or 38.3%) have chosen to connect via a retailer like Spark, Vodafone or Slingshot.

In terms of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), which involves both fibre and new cell towers supporting wireless broadband, the report says 121,620 users (or 39.9%) of 304,574 within reach have chosen to connect.

In its final month in office, National extended both the UFB and the RBI.

The urban rollout had been due to wrap up at the end of 2019 but will instead continue until 2022, extending population coverage to 87%. Chorus will carry out most UFB 2 work. 

In a surprise move, $250 million for RBI 2 work was awarded to a joint bid from Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees. Chorus (which won the RBI 1 tender with a bid in partnership with Vodafone) was cut out of the picture.

Phase One of the UFB rollout is now 100% complete in multiple centres including Hamilton, Rotorua, Whangarei, Tauranga, and Queenstown – and is 86% complete in Christchurch and 88% in Dunedin.

Auckland – where just 66% of premises are now within reach of the UFB – and Wellington (also 66%) continue to be the laggards.

Despite having to wait longer for fibre, Aucklanders are more enthusiastic adopters once they do get the opportunity to upgrade, with 42.3% taking UFB accounts.

In Wellington, uptake (31.5%) lags the national average of 38.3%, possibly because of competition from Vodafone’s cable service (dubbed "Fibre X," a name some have called misleading; the Commerce Commission is investigating).

Where to from here?
Meanwhile, Chorus continues to be dogged by allegations of allegedly poor working conditions for linesman – although the company says the latest incidents are isolated.

The National government's Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Bill was left marooned in select committee when Parliament rose for the election. As the new government settles in, Chorus has sought to set the post-2020 agenda, with a proposal to build a 5G mobile network on the UFB model, which has drawn a scornful response from Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees.

Incoming Communications Minister Clare Curran, who has taken over the telco bill, says she will not comment on the legislation until submissions close in February. Ms Curran says she has no comment on Chorus' 5G proposal at this point, either.

RAW DATA: Read the full report

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