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Adams targets UFB land access, power line use in proposed law change

By Pattrick Smellie, Wed 10 Jun 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Communications Minister Amy Adams wants to reduce consenting delays affecting an estimated 15 percent of households in the government-sponsored ultrafast broadband roll-out, proposing law changes that would make it easier for technicians to access properties with shared spaces.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is seeking submissions on a discussion document launched today on how to reduce unnecessary costs and delays associated with the UFB roll-out. The document cites rules governing network operators' access to private property where land is in common ownership as "the most pressing issue" causing about 15 percent of UFB orders requiring permission from neighbours that may be frustrated or delayed.

Between 3 percent and 6 percent of all UFB requests are failing over consenting issues, and MBIE estimates some 60,000 households could be prevented from accessing the network as a result.

"There have been frustrating delays faced by some customers and industry in installing broadband cables up shared driveways and in apartment complexes due to disputes and permission requirements," Adams said in a statement. "While the industry has a role in streamlining the way they process UFB applications, the government is ensuring the regulations are fit for purpose."

Last month, Chorus reiterated its push for legislative change to the rules governing their right of access, which chief executive Mark Ratcliffe said was taking six times longer than a regular install in a stand-alone house. At issue was the requirement to notify neighbours, who might be absent, to confirm they didn't object, or the ability of third parties to oppose an installation because of an unrelated dispute.  

Adams told BusinessDesk the government was very careful about potentially cutting across private property rights, but that it wasn't appropriate for unreasonable disputes over shared spaces to hold up the major UFB infrastructure programme. The Telecommunications Act, which governs right of access, will need to be amended, and Adams plans to get legislation through Parliament as fast as she can.

The discussion document puts forward two options to deal with the current framework, either deeming consent from third parties, or provides an automatic right to install infrastructure on land, based on Australia's regime. Any new access rights would probably include a sunset clause until 2025 to allow for the UFB network to be sufficiently established.

Submissions on the document close on July 24, after which Adams will take her recommendation to Cabinet.

The discussion document is also seeking feedback on allowing the use of fibre for telecommunication purposes on existing infrastructure, such as power lines, something existing legislation only allows for the transmission of electricity.

The MBIE document says the proposal would improve the business case for extending fibre networks, something currently under consideration in a separate consultation round, and Adams said being able to use existing infrastructure fits into that plan.

She said she is very conscious of achieving the best value for money within her budgeted allocation in expanding the government's rural broadband initiative and UFB, and is pleased with the adoption of the plans to date.

Today, Adams marked the completion of the UFB  build in the South Island town of Timaru, with more than 14,000 households, schools, businesses and medical centres able to connect to the network.

About 46 percent of the UFB build is complete, with some 85,500 end-users nationwide out of the 618,000 able to connect to the network so far.

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