The New Zealand Government has announced an accelerated timetable for the rollout of new rural broadband and mobile networks, in a bid to help close the “digital divides” across the country.
The Rural Broadband Initiative Phase Two (RBI2) and the Mobile Black Spot Fund (MBSF) builds were due for completion by the end of 2022, but the new schedule aims to have them “substantially finished” by the end of 2021 - a year earlier than previously planned.
“New Zealanders must have access to technology as a right, regardless of income or geography and we have to close the gap between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ to ensure people and communities benefit from the jobs, access and participation that a digital future brings,” said Clare Curran, minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media.
“We are listening to feedback from businesses and from people who live in and travel to our most rural and remote areas, and they want more clarity around when their connectivity will improve. I want people to know they don’t have to wait until the end of 2022.”
Curran said the deployment schedule and coverage information for RBI2 is now available on the National Broadband Map.
“An address checker is available on the map where you can type in your address to see if and when you will receive RBI2 broadband coverage,” Curran explained. “This will show both planned and actual coverage, and give an indication of the timing for planned coverage.
“The company providing service in your area is listed on the Availability Report when you search your address.”
According to Curran, funding for the RBI2/MBSF programme comes mainly from the Telecommunications Development Levy (TDL), a levy paid by telcos, with some of the programme funded privately by the three mobile operators Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees.
“Funding for a $105 million RBI2/MBSF expansion comes from Crown Infrastructure Partners’ funds and announcements will be made in the coming months on the outcome of the RBI2/MBSF expansion process, which is currently underway,” Curran added.
Furthermore, Curran said there will be additional resources for rural communities not covered by these programmes to apply for under the $1 billion Provincial Growth Fund, as announced by Shane Jones, minister of Infrastructure.
Four regions - Tairāwhiti/East Coast, Tai Tokerau/Northland, the West Coast, and Manawatū-Whanganui - were targeted for increased investment through a Provincial Growth Fund ‘surge’ effort, overlapping with work on delivering faster broadband to rural and remote communities through RBI2.
“There is enormous untapped potential in our provinces – we have businesses with ideas and ambitions but they need infrastructure like high-speed broadband to compete equally in our 21st century economy,” Curran added. “We want to let them know we are supporting them, and to let them know what’s coming down the line.
“The basis of a digital economy is universal access to efficient and cost effective broadband for all corners and communities in New Zealand.
“This government intends to grow ICT to be the second largest contributor to GDP by 2025 so we have to start the work now to close the digital divides.”