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Santa Joyce delivers Xmas broadband joy

The festive season is upon us; the stores are packed high with toys and other goodies. And among those making a last minute rush is ICT Minister Steven Joyce.

The festive season is upon us; the stores are packed high with toys and other goodies. And among those making a last minute rush is ICT Minister Steven Joyce.

He has been criticised for delaying things and leaving it a little late.

But in a final flurry, Joyce has at last started delivering his Christmas goodies.

This week, Northpower started rolling out the first broadband under the ultra-fast broadband (UFB) project in provincial Northland.

The move follows last week's government announcement also awarding contracts to WEL Networks, a power company supplying cities and towns like Hamilton, New Plymouth and Wanganui in New Zealand's North Island. Their roll-outs will start early in the new year.

This week, came further announcements on the UFB, with a couple of power companies and others being announced as preferred suppliers, and more controversially, that Telecom NZ will most likely gain the bulk of the remaining work.

These contracts are set to be signed in the first quarter of 2011.

Depending on a couple of undecided regions, Telecom will gain between 70 and 84 per cent of the entire UFB project.

Telecom has to split itself in two to be eligible for such broadband work and last week a government Bill was passed under urgency to let this happen.

We have also seen action on the Rural Broadband Initiative.

Last week, Joyce announced the preferred three bidders for the NZ$300 million scheme.

A joint bid from Telecom NZ and Vodafone was one of the finalists, along with bids from a Maori organisation and ISP FX Networks forming the remainder. Binding contracts are expected to be signed early in 2011.

In other developments, the deadline passed this week for companies to register their interest in supplying the basic broadband infrastructure to Crown Fibre Holdings, the government holding company partnering the broadband projects.

Now there have been one or two Grinches, such as the opposition Labour Party which said that Joyce has been too slow or Telecom has gained too much work. But Joyce deservedly earns the support and praise he has received for his efforts from across the New Zealand ICT sector.

He is delivering gifts to almost all. This includes Vodafone looking to partner with Telecom NZ on the rural front and a couple of ISPs and power companies taking part in either the rural or urban initiatives. The suppliers will be a diverse mix.

While some will be unhappy with their presents and some will have to wait until next year for theirs, much progress is being made.

The New Zealand Government had set a 10-year time frame for delivery of broadband projects, and so far it looks like its decision making and the enthusiasm of the ICT industry will ensure all targets are met.

As we Kiwis enter election year in 2011 with broadband roll-outs well underway, Joyce can proudly say he has delivered on his election commitments of 2008.

Not all ministers in the National-led government will be able to say that, least of all the Finance Minister Bill English, as he surveys a still sick Kiwi economy.

And when I look at all the road construction projects in and around Auckland, Wellington and the Waikato, Joyce has also delivered many more presents from his other government job as transport minister!