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New Zealand Deploys Broadband Connectivity Initiative

A new government-led initiative, the Remote Users Scheme, will provide broadband and connect New Zealand’s most remote communities. The Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, David Clark, recently announced the scheme, noting that it would equip as many remote households as possible with the connectivity infrastructure needed to access broadband services.

“Whilst these locations might be off the grid, it doesn’t mean they can’t be connected to it in some way,” Clark explained. In some of these communities, there is currently only access to voice calling and messaging services. In other locations, there is the Internet, but the speed of it is slow and its use is limited. As the global cost of living crisis puts pressure on New Zealanders and their families, a reliable connection will make it easier for remote businesses to operate, pay invoices, and network.

The new scheme will also help connect people to online health services and educational tools. Through Budget 2022, $15 million was allocated towards funding the Remote Users Scheme, as part of the broader $60 million rural connectivity package announced earlier in the year.

The Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP), which was established by the government, will administer the Remote Users Scheme and will soon be calling for applications from potentially eligible households and communities. A request for proposal from Internet service providers will follow. It is expected that new broadband connectivity infrastructure for the eligible areas and households can begin being built in mid-2023.

This initiative is another step forward in improving connectivity for citizens, complementing the significant progress made on the government’s connectivity programmes over the past five years, Clark noted. Since the launch of the RBI2 initiative, over 75,000 rural homes and businesses have been provided with improved broadband connectivity, 364 new mobile towers have been built in rural areas, and 591 maraes have received broadband connections. The government has also connected 95 tourism sites and provided 1,059kms of rural state highway with mobile coverage.

Last month, OpenGov Asia reported that the government is working with the country’s biggest telecommunications network operators to accelerate the roll-out of 5G services across New Zealand to improve rural connectivity.

Under an agreement, many more New Zealanders will gain access to the speed, capacity, and reliability of 5G services. Generally, 5G spectrum access is sold to telecommunications providers through an auction. However, under the agreement, the government will bypass that process and use a direct allocation method. Three major mobile network operators will be required to increase the pace of the 5G roll-out to small towns and hardest-to-reach parts of the country.

Subject to contract negotiations, the direct allocation of spectrum will be provided in exchange for investment from all parties involved and will see the market value of this spectrum be delivered through the faster availability of 5G to small towns, leveraging the existing capability and networks of major mobile network operators and infrastructure providers.

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