The Labour Party is continuing to take shots at the Government’s rural broadband plans, claiming a 55km “Cable to Nowhere” has been laid between Wairoa and Tuai.
Labour’s ICT spokesperson Clare Curran says the cable serves just one company, while in other regions in New Zealand there is limited rural internet access.
“Genesis Energy has been the sole recipient of an incredibly long length of fibre,” claims Curran. “It is especially concerning when the local school at Tuai has been unable to qualify for funding to get the software to make use of the new bandwidth even if it had the money to get connected,” she says.
However, Communications Minister Amy Adams says it is “becoming increasingly clear that facts are not wholly important to Ms Curran”.
“Our understanding is that the fibre was installed specifically for Te Kura O Waikaremoana school’s benefit (and not Genesis Energy) and the school is currently in the process of connecting to the network,” she says.
However, Curran says the cable raises serious questions about the Government’s rural broadband priorities, when many other areas have ‘worryingly low’ internet access
“According to council surveys, in places like Huntly just 44% of households have access to the internet, 51% in Tuakau and 50% in Taumarunui.
“In Clutha it costs $100,000 to connect because a transmission cable was run through the region, not a connecting cable,” Curran says.
“In Kawerau both main schools have complained that very few of their students have the internet at home, due to cost and access issues. Their students are being held back.”
Adams disagrees, saying, “The Government has made schools a top priority and made a commitment to rolling out fibre to all schools by the end of 2015 (excluding the 57 more remote schools who are getting point-to-point wireless).
“I make no apologies for this,” she says.
“This is regional neglect on a grand scale,” says Curran. “National’s spin on rural broadband has been exposed.”
“We’ve said from the beginning that under RBI we would lay backhaul fibre out to cell towers and cabinets and fibre to schools - and that’s what we’re doing,” Adams explains. “All three provide benefit to the surrounding community.”
“It’s a fact that some of these schools are in provincial New Zealand but we remain committed to rolling out fibre to them,” she says.
However, Curran is adamnt the Rural Broadband Inititiave is a ‘shambles’.
“Last week the Government changed the rules in the middle of the tender process for the next round, requiring councils to stump up money to go higher up the list,” she says.
“And yesterday Amy Adams sacked the ministry responsible for the delivery – MBIE – and replaced it with Crown Fibre Holdings.
“Over $300 million has already been spent by National on a rural broadband scheme that has subsidised commercial networks but delivered little real value for most of New Zealand,” says Curran. “The next round of $100 million is unlikely to deliver significant change at this rate.”
Curran says, “The Government needs to front up on the failings of its broadband schemes and devise workable and funded plans to deliver 21st Century connectivity to urban and rural New Zealanders this decade not the next.”