Despite relatively flat revenue, earnings growth for the first half of 2020 underpinned a strong result for Chorus.

The company’s operating revenue was down a tick at $483 million compared with $489 million a year earlier. Yet Chorus’ earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) improved to $332 million. That’s up on the $318 million from the same period last year. Operating expenses were $151 million, down $20 million year on year.

Chorus says it achieved the EBITDA growth through a combination of operating cost reductions and strong broadband connections growth.

This looks set to continue with the full year EBITDA guidance upgraded to a range of $640 million to $655 million. It was set earlier at $625 million to $645 million.

Chorus left its gross capital expenditure guidance unchanged at $660–$700 million. It increased the capex for fibre connections and layer 2 to $295–$315 million.

Chorus CEO JB Rousselot told investors that last year’s completion of the first phase of the Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout marks the beginning of the wind-down of Chorus’ fibre build programme.

“In November we celebrated the completion of our nine-year contract with the Government in bringing fibre to 28 towns and cities. The contract was delivered on-time and on-budget and is a textbook case study of how a public-private partnership can work well in delivering a cost-effective outcome for taxpayers.”

“The second phase of our fibre build, UFB2, is already about 40 percent complete and there are now just 150,000 premises remaining to be passed by December 2022.”

In the six months to 31 December 2019 Chorus added 99,000 fibre installations. It says that 13 percent of connections are on gigabit plans. In January the average household data usage on Chorus’ fibre network was 372 gigabytes, up from 342 in June.

Rousselot says the focus is now on connecting as many customers as possible. He says; “The number of fixed-line disconnections slowed markedly in the first six months.”

He singled out the threat from mobile carriers promoting fixed wireless broadband as an alternative to fibre, and noted concern that carriers talk of the copper shutdown as a reason to move.