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UFB land access proposal a boost for Northland

Northpower has welcomed Government progress on possible legislative changes to land access for Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) – labelling the move a game changer for New Zealand’s telecommunications landscape.

Northpower Network General Manager Graham Dawson says the proposal by Communications Minister Amy Adams is removing the biggest constraint to UFB deployment into small towns and rural areas.

“What the Minister is saying makes absolute sense and the sooner we get the law changed the better for New Zealand,” says Mr Dawson.

The company behind New Zealand’s first UFB fibre network says the move could break down barriers for rural Northlanders, providing a huge economic and social boost for the region – and the rest of rural New Zealand.

“Fibre is the major technology upgrade for all fixed line copper telecommunication circuits so it is important for New Zealand that all unnecessary barriers to cost effective deployment are removed.

“People talk of ending the digital divide. The rural community is tremendously important to us and the changes proposed are a very critical step in making UFB-type services possible for the rural community. Northpower is keen to provide UFB services to them – provided it stacks up financially.

“But we can only do that with a law change that will give us cost-free access to our electricity infrastructure which could remove around $100 million in additional costs for a UFB build in the Kaipara and Whangarei Districts.

Rural costs double
As the law and regulations around land access for telecommunications stand, deployment costs for rural communities would be more than double what they should be and that is all down to land access and easements, he says.

And existing easement requirements could cause delays of more than a year in order to secure agreement from various individual land owners. On top of this may be the costs of purchasing easements for every property passed which would make deploying fibre to rural areas uneconomic.

“Right now, with existing rights, we can legally deploy fibre optic cable on our poles on private rural land for electricity purposes without easements, but we can’t for telecommunications purposes. 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,” says Mr Dawson.

Study shows high cost
Northpower Chief Executive Mark Gatland says the company has recently undertaken a study of the costs to deploy fibre to the Jordan Valley farming community North of Whangarei by using its existing electricity network infrastructure.

This particular electricity feeder is 83km long and crosses 206 individual properties in order to provide power to just over 300 buildings.

“The cost to actually build this fibre deployment would be around $1 million. However, under the existing land use rights for that feeder, an additional $1.44

million would be required in securing easements from land owners on that line – and delay build completion by 18 months. Such an impact would clearly make the project unviable,” says Mr Gatland.

However, Mr Dawson says proposed land access law changes will also enable fibre to be cost effectively deployed to a lot of people on the fringe areas of the UFB area.

But there are challenges within urban fibre UFB networks also.

“Within the urban environment it should be a fundamental right for any property owner or occupier to have access to UFB through fibre.

“No one should be able to block that but right now we are having issues with right of way access with multiple owners. Currently, written permission is required from each property owner to install UFB in a right of way.

“That can delay and prevent people from gaining access to UFB which defeats the purpose of the project, especially when neighbours on a shared driveway unreasonably refuse to provide permission to install fibre.”

Northpower Fibre currently has the highest uptake (20%) of any UFB fibre network in New Zealand.

“But we can only (provide UFB services) with a law change that will give us cost-free access to our electricity infrastructure which could remove around $100 million in additional costs for a UFB build in the Kaipara and Whangarei Districts.”

- Graham Dawson, Northpower Network General Manager


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