Communications minister Simon Bridges says by 2025 99 percent of New Zealanders will be able to download at 50 megabits per second. The remaining one percent will get downloads of at least 10 mbps.

Bridges was speaking at the 2017 Tuanz Rural Broadband Symposium in Wellington. His keynote speech reviewed progress on government funded broadband projects since work started in 2010, then looked forward to the near future.

He says the government aims to catapult New Zealand into the top rank of connected nations. “New Zealand moved up the OECD connectivity rankings measuring the proportion of the population with fibre access from 14 in 2015, to 11 in 2016. By the time the existing programmes are complete, we will be in the top five alongside countries like Japan, South Korea and Spain”.

Bridges says the second phase of the UFB fibre programme has already started with work underway in Hokitika and Hikurangi in Northland. This will see fibre reach another 151 towns and extend to 43 fringe areas in cities and towns that are already covered. He says the UFB2 fibre roll-out will be complete by 2024.

Meanwhile planning has started on the second stage of the Rural Broadband Initiative. Bridges says tenders closed last month and Crown Fibre Holdings is assessing the responses. He says the goal of the second stage is to extend fast broadband to the greatest number of homes possible.

It also includes money set aside to improve mobile coverage. This means reducing the coverage blackspots on rural state highways and putting towers in remote tourist locations.

Bridges says: “I’m pleased with the strong engagement and response to the tender process”. The minister says regional operators have been encouraged to take part in RBI2 and, while technologies have not been specified, there is a preference for open access.

He says based on what he has seen so far, it looks like the proposals submitted mean the government will be able to “do far more than we anticipated”.

Bridges hinted that decisions would be made soon telling the audience they won’t have to wait long to find out what happens.

Telecommunications Development Levy to stay in place

The minister fielded a question from the Rural Connectivity Symposium audience on whether the telecommunications development levy would remain permanent.

Bridges first answered the question by saying: “Nothing is permanent”. Then he went on to say that there is no intention to deal with it.

The $50 million tax on the telecommunications industry was first introduced in 2011 to raise money for rural projects that might once have been part of Telecom NZ’s telecommunications service obligation. At that time, it was talked of as a temporary measure. Then later there was a promise from government to wind it back from $50 million to $10 million. For now it looks as if the $50 million a year extra tax on the industry is locked in.