Rural broadband switch prompts Opposition attack

Labour accuses the Government of botching the roll-out of wireless broadband to rural New Zealand.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

Changes to the governance of a project to deliver wireless broadband into rural New Zealand have been slammed by the opposition as an acknowledgement of failure.

Clare Curran
ICT minister Amy Adams yesterday transferred responsibility for the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) to Crown Fibre Holdings, which currently manages the nationwide fibre rollout, from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Opposition ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran characterised that as a "sacking" and accused Adams of ducking for cover.

"Amy Adams is desperately trying to contain the growing fallout from her government's mismanagement of rural broadband," Curran said today.

The change comes as rural councils are pitching to MBIE for more broadband funding.

"This explains why MBIE went into shutdown mode this week and refused to meet with mayors anxious about their chances to secure funding to improve very low connectivity in their regions," Curran said.

Adams was trying to distance herself from accountability for rural broadband because of mounting anger at poor speeds and access, she added.

Yesterday, Curran latched on to a survey of councils and comments from Federated Farmers and dairy cooperative Fonterra she said revealed widespread dissatisfaction with current levels of service.

"In Huntly household internet access is 44 percent," Curran said. "In Western Bay of Plenty, 72 percent say it's not fast enough or reliable enough for their needs. In Kaitaia, internet penetration is just 49 per cent. The data for Ruapehu is too unreliable as many people could not even load the test.

"Only 14 per cent of people in Northland are satisfied with their internet with one person saying they can't even load the NZ Herald website."

Under questioning in Parliament, Adams suggested Curran was mischaracterising some of the comments.

"I do not ... consider that five megabits is woefully inadequate, as it enables most uses--like high-definition streaming, and use of software as a service, like Xero--and it represents a twentyfold increase on what those residents were experiencing under Labour," she said.

Earlier this month, Adams announced an extension of the RBI, which is funded by an industry levy, with increased speed targets and broader reach.

Adams set a new target for rural connectivity of peak speed of 50Mbps for 99 percent of the New Zealanders by 2025.

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