New Zealand's governing National Party is promising to invest NZ$150 million in a new fund to extend the country's existing rural broadband rollout if re-elected.
Communications and IT spokeswoman Amy Adams said NZ$100 million of that would be available through a contestable fund for communities to improve their connectivity using fixed broadband. Large parts of the current NZ$300 million Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) are delivered using wireless and mobile technologies.
The fund's criteria will focus on enhancing connectivity in areas outside the parallel Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) fibre network rollout.
Adams said that nearly 250,000 households and businesses have access to faster broadband under the current RBI.
The investment will be funded through a three-year extension of the current NZ$50 million Telecommunications Development Levy paid by telecommunications providers.
The additional NZ$50 million will be used to extend mobile coverage in the more remote parts of New Zealand, and to fill black spots on highways and in tourist areas.
Opposition IT spokesperson Clare Curran said the government must guarantee that the new fund is truly contestable and not just a "slush fund" for large telcos.
"Today’s new fund is an admission that the RBI has failed and undershot the ambitions of New Zealanders," she said.
Broadband connections in rural New Zealand are poor by world standards, she added.
"If this turns out anything like the Ultra-Fast Broadband project, it will simply result in more money for telecommunications companies, with no real difference to rural communities for years to come."
Last month, Curran attended a meeting at one rural community, Outram near seat in Dunedin, after residents launched a petition to be included in the Ultra-Fast Broadband project.