Improved broadband and mobile services for rural New Zealand will grow regional economies and boost tourism in key destinations, according to Communications Minister Amy Adams.
A Request for Proposals has been issued to extend the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) and provide mobile coverage to black spots on state highways and in tourist areas.
“Around 293,000 rural New Zealanders are accessing better broadband under the first phase of our RBI programme,” Adams said.
“This next stage sees an investment of $150 million to extend coverage to even more New Zealanders.
“My aim is to provide high-speed broadband to the greatest number of under-served rural New Zealanders within the funding available, and give regional communities access to high-speed broadband.
“We also want to improve the reach of mobile services to support safety on State Highways and enhance the visitor experience for tourists.”
Under the RBI Extension, Adams said improved broadband will be delivered to communities unable to access broadband speeds of at least 20 Megabits per second.
For Adams, the Mobile Black Spot Fund will improve the availability of mobile services to areas which do not have coverage from any mobile operator.
In addition, Adams said a “long list” of State Highway and tourism locations has been identified that the Government is interested in seeing proposals for.
There are more than 200 mobile black spots noted in the RFP for potential inclusion but Adams noted that not all those locations will get coverage and others not listed could also end up with increased coverage.
“We identified a long list of mobile black spots to guide respondents to highway zones and tourism areas without mobile coverage,” Adams added.
“The areas finally selected from this list will be as a result of negotiations in the course of the RFP process.”
The RFP is open to any telecommunications technology able to meet a set of user outcomes. For the Mobile Black Spot Fund there’s a minimum requirement to provide 3G voice services, with 4G preferred in tourist areas.
Adams said the RBI2 and MBSF programmes will deliver open access to government funded infrastructure (towers, cabinets), with exemptions from some obligations for regional operators.
Looking ahead, Adams believes the programmes will contribute towards meeting the Government’s “aspirational targets” for rural broadband.
“We’ve set an ambitious goal of ensuring that by 2025, 99 per cent of New Zealanders will have access to broadband peak speeds of at least 50Mbps, and everyone will have at least 10Mbps,” Adams added.
“We’re interested in seeing how proposals for delivering coverage under the RBI2 and MBSF programmes show an upgrade path in line with this vision.”
It’s expected the first contracts will be awarded by June 2017.
“This is a unique opportunity for national and regional providers to partner with the Government to deliver increased connectivity and improved services to rural communities,” Adams added.
“I encourage network operators regardless of size to put their hand up and be part of this proposal.”
Following the announcement, Spark New Zealand has welcomed the decision to seek proposals to extend the RBI.
“We welcome this decision, and we're looking forward to working our way through the details and working with Government, community stakeholders and other telecommunications network operators to identify how the Government's RBI and Mobile Black Spot Fund can be best directed to improve ultra-fast broadband availability in rural New Zealand,” Spark general manager of regulation, John Wesley-Smith, added.