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Rugby World Cup rural broadband: find a friend

Thursday 7th March 2019

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Around 40,000 rural householders will need to leave the couch (nay, the house) to watch the full gamut of Rugby World Cup matches this year. That’s because their broadband won’t be good enough to stream the games.

That was the message from the bosses of Crown Infrastructure Partners, the body tasked with providing ultra-fast and rural broadband to New Zealanders.

Quizzed by MPs on the Transport and Infrastructure select committee, CIP’s chair Simon Allen and chief executive Graham Mitchell said the second Rural Broadband Initiative rollout was still in its early stages, but had already seen 31,000 households hooked up.

That will have increased by the time the World Cup kicks off in Japan on September 20. However an estimated 40,000 households, many who still have only dial-up level internet speeds, will have to look at finding a pub or a friend with better broadband, Mitchell said.

Only seven RWC games will be screened free-to-air on TVNZ; the others will be available only by streaming them on a broadband or mobile connection via telecommunications company Spark.

Asked by MP Paul Goldsmith whether the network would cope with a huge increase in traffic with everyone streaming world cup games, Allen was optimistic.

“The ultra-fast broadband wholesale fibre network has ample capacity. It will well and truly cope with the increase. And the rural networks will be engineered to cope with it, though not all the rural build will be finished by then.”

Less certain is how the broadband retailer networks will handle the stress - particularly Spark, which hasn’t had to deal with such potentially large spikes in traffic before.

Sports streaming has had its dire moments overseas over recent years, including a major failure with Aussie telco Optus’ Fifa World Cup stream July last year.

Meanwhile it wasn’t all about rugby at the Transport and Infrastructure select committee. The MPs also asked questions about Crown Infrastructure Partners' Haast mobile phone blackspot upgrade - the sole policeman is happy to at last be able to communicate from accident or crime scenes.

Allen and Mitchell also updated MPs about the East Coast broadband project (only a handful of households should be unable to connect when it’s finished) and CIP’s new(ish) role facilitating roading and wastewater infrastructure funding for new housing developments.

The flagship Milldale project, at Wainui north of Auckland, will see CIP finance over half of the estimated $91.3 million cost of bulk infrastructure for 9000 houses.

The funding model, which sees section owners repay the money for the infrastructure over 30 years, aims to take the pressure off councils who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford this infrastructure - at least in the short- to medium-term.

“Milldale was going to be built over 30 years,” Allen said. “By CIP putting the money in, it has brought the project forward 20 years.”  

Crown Infrastructure Partners is also looking at developments in other parts of Auckland, and in Tauranga, Hamilton, and Queenstown. But it wasn’t easy to know when (or if) the others might happen

“Milldale is the only announced model, but we have workstreams across others. It’s a bit like a horse race - you don’t know who’s going to win.”

Still the MPs on the select committee seemed happy, quipping that CIP, which under its previous incarnation as Crown Fibre Holdings dealt only with broadband, should broaden its scope.

As National’s Judith Collins joked: “You wouldn’t want to take over the city rail link, would you?”


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