There was a surprise bonus when Prime Minister Bill English joined Communications Minister Simon Bridges to announce the RBI2 contracts on Wednesday. The government added enough extra money to plug almost all remaining fast broadband coverage gaps. There was also cash to speed up the rest of the build.
As a result, by 2022 all but the most remote New Zealand homes will be able to connect to fast broadband. The fibre network will extend deep into regional New Zealand. Five years from now a total of 390 towns will have fibre to the premises. Fibre will reach 87 percent of the population. The rest of the population will get what promises to be one of the best rural networks anywhere in the world.
Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, operating together as the Rural Connectivity Group won the $150 million earmarked for RBI2 plus an extra $100 million to further extend the network. The RCG will build 450 more rural cellular towers. Under the RCG plan, the three members will share the tower and the antennae. In effect, the three mobile carriers will operate as MVNOs — mobile virtual network operators. The money will also be used to extend the mobile network coverage along rural highways.
The government then announced it will spend a further $130 million extending the UFB to a further 190 towns. This will cover about 60,000 more homes and businesses. The network was already on target to reach 200 towns. Chorus will get most of the extra UFB money, with the other fibre companies also extending their reach into the regions.
Another $40 million is set aside for further rural broadband. Of that, $13 million will go to regional wireless internet service providers, the small operators who service more remote areas.
In total the government announced an additional $270 million of spending, yet that’s not the cost to the taxpayer. The sum is made up of $240 million recycled from earlier stages of the UFB project and $30 million from the Telecommunications Development Levy. Bridges says the announcement brings the total government money spent on broadband to more than $2 billion.