Broadband roll-out plans under fire

Kāpiti has one of the highest internet user rates in the country so the Government’s proposed roll-out of services is under close scrutiny and many groups are far from satisfied.

In a recent poll nearly three-quarters of the New Zealanders polled about the Government’s proposed Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) roll-out want the Commerce Commission retained as a watch-dog over telecommunications prices and services.

Announcing the poll’s results recently in Auckland at the Tel.Con11 Conference, TelstraClear CEO Allan Freeth revealed New Zealander consumers don’t believe the Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill will protect their interests in terms of competitive and fairly-priced broadband.

The nationwide, online survey of 500 Kiwis shows 73 percent are against current Government plans to ban the Commerce Commission from overseeing telecommunications services and prices until late 2019.

“An overwhelming majority, at 73 percent, believe the Commerce Commission should be allowed to regulate prices where necessary to protect consumers,” said Dr Freeth.

The proposal to remove Commerce Commission oversight flies in the face of World Trade Organisation rules by giving successful fibre company bidders an unprecedented 10-year holiday from regulation.

“It will create a monopoly scenario providing fibre companies with the incentive to overcharge and underperform. We have been here before,” declared Dr Freeth.

Proposals in the Bill allowing duplication, or overbuild, of UFB-like services that already exist also found little favour with those polled: 61 percent want the Government to prioritise UFB construction where need is greatest and supply poorest.

Furthermore, over half those questioned said they were concerned about the Christchurch earthquake, and supported a delay to the UFB rollout, in favour of efforts to provide further support to affected Cantabrians.

Dr Freeth says the poll’s results show it’s time the Government looked again at the Bill to ensure consumer interests and taxpayers’ $1.5b contribution are being protected. He called on Steven Joyce, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, and his officials to “join us in a sincere dialogue about these issues and concerns,” in a clear reference to flaws that both consumer and telecommunications industry groups see in the Bill.

“Clearly, consumers know what they want, and have already worked through the trade-offs,” said Dr Freeth. “Maybe it’s time for this Government to begin listening, and seek ways of accommodating the well-founded concerns and issues of all stakeholders.”