$50 million for further rural broadband digital connectivity has been allocated from the $3 billion infrastructure fund in the COVID Response and Recovery Fund has been announced by Shane Jones, Minister for Infrastructure and Kris Faafoi, Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media.
The investment will go to boosting broadband access and capacity across most regions of New Zealand, with an emphasis on Te Tai Tokerau (Northland), Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Top of South and Canterbury, secondly, Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Auckland rural areas and Otago, and thirdly Hawkes Bay, West Coast, Taranaki, Wellington (rural), and Southland.
“This funding is complementary to the $15 million announced on 29 April for new investment in rural network capacity, and aims to continue helping to close the ‘digital divide’ by providing quality broadband that is more reliable and consistent, especially during times of peak use,” Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said.
Shane Jones said that while the $15 million package focused on upgrading mobile towers that are congested and on ‘stop sell’, the $50 million digital connectivity package is intended to address rural connectivity issues that arose during the COVID-19 lockdown. In particular it aims to increase broadband availability in areas where congestion and capacity constraints emerged during lockdown. This typically occurred in high density rural and urban fringe areas.
Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Kris Faafoi said that the focus of the $50 million funding would be on creating new broadband capacity and availability in the areas with the greatest congestion (now and in the future) and would be open to any form of broadband technology. For example, it would utilise additional Ultra-fast Broadband (fibre) where it was economic, and Wireless ISP broadband to fill in capacity gaps and relieve congestion, where that was a more viable option.
The first project utilising the $50 million will provide approximately 380 households and businesses in Northland with access to Ultra-fast Broadband.
“The funding enables Northpower Fibre to extend improved broadband capacity in certain areas around Whangarei, Dargaville and Mangawhai Heads,” Shane Jones said.
“This extension will bring Ultrafast Broadband to more Northlanders and will take pressure off the existing networks in the area, which are experiencing some congestion and capacity constraints,” Shane Jones said.
“The Northpower expansion will be a seamless addition to the UFB network, will be managed by Crown Infrastructure Partners and all of the existing policy and regulatory requirements for UFB will apply to it.”
“People who live in semi-rural lifestyle areas around towns and cities often experience broadband congestion due to certain technologies not having enough capacity during peak times, which became even more pronounced during the COVID-19 lockdown” Kris Faafoi said.
CIP will run a short process to select partners and solutions which will provide optimal value for the Government funding focused on the highest congestion areas.
“The fund will also be used to top up the Provincial Growth Fund marae digital connectivity programme so that more eligible marae can connect to broadband and have associated hardware installed. The marae programme is seeing incredible demand with over 400 applications now received. This top up will enable more whanau and hapu to get the benefit of broadband and to continue enabling rural marae in particular to be digital hubs supporting their local communities,” Shane Jones said.
All approvals are in principle and subject to contract negotiations. Investment values are also subject to change.
The original UFB programme was completed in 2019. There is currently an expansion to the UFB programme being rolled out, to be completed by 2022. This will take UFB to 86% of the population. Today’s announcement means approximately 380 more households and businesses can receive UFB.
The $50 million digital connectivity fund was allocated pursuant to the Infrastructure Reference Group’s process of identifying ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects that can help stimulate the economy post-COVID.