Northpower is hopeful a telecommunications land access law change will help break the digital divide for rural Northlanders by allowing it to cost-effectively take fibre deep into its community.
The Northland electricity lines company – which completed New Zealand’s first UFB fibre network build in Whangarei in 2014 – has reignited the debate on costly red tape around access to its power poles on private land; encouraged by Federated Farmers research that 54 percent of farmers are unhappy with their broadband options.
The company is keen to work with Federated Farmers to provide decent and cost-effective broadband options to its Kaipara and Whangarei electricity consumers.
And Northpower Network General Manager Graham Dawson says Northpower has the solution.
“We agree there needs to be benefits delivered to farmers and we have ideas around this, including installing connection points so they can connect without hassle,” says Mr Dawson.
“The law change we are seeking would be a massive boost for NZ Inc. It would mean the more intensively populated semi-rural areas such in Whangarei Heads, the fringes of Whangarei and small rural communities throughout broader Whangarei and Kaipara not be covered by the upcoming UFB2 initiative, could still receive UFB-type services.
“The model is simple – putting fibre on our distribution power poles where they lines cross private land, just as we have done with electricity the past 100 years,” says Mr Dawson.
Northpower has spoken openly for some time on law changes needed around land access for installing fibre on electricity networks.
“As the law currently stands Northpower can legally deploy fibre optic cable on our power poles on private rural land for electricity purposes without easements, but we can’t for telecommunications purposes.
“However, there is no difference to the landowner whether the fibre is used for electricity or telecommunications, and if used for telecommunications they stand to gain access to a world class telecommunications network.”
Mr Dawson believes it should be a fundamental right for any property owner or occupier to have access to UFB through fibre.
“We have a track record of delivering world class ultra-fast broadband and we want to do this for our rural constituents if the business case stacks up. For that to happen, there needs to be a small amendment to the Electricity Act 1992 around land access to our electricity infrastructure. That law change will remove around $100m in easement costs – ultimately paperwork – in our network area alone. However, the business case is completely uneconomic if the law change is not made.”
Meanwhile Northland Inc Chief Executive David Wilson has endorsed Northpower’s stance.
“Northland is so lucky to have a company like Northpower providing the services that it does and it is paradoxical that they aren’t being allowed the access they need to deliver what they can,” Mr Wilson says.
“Northland needs good access to the internet via reliable broadband provision right across the region to help develop and grow the economy for the benefit of all Northlanders.”