Big names get in behind fibre link to US

By Helen Twose

Gareth Morgan is investing in Pacific Fibre. Photo / Supplied
Gareth Morgan is investing in Pacific Fibre. Photo / Supplied

Backers for the Pacific Fibre project expect to start a capital raising before the year end.

Co-founder and newly appointed chief executive, Mark Rushworth, said funding for the plan, timetabled for "this side of Christmas", is likely to come from a combination of debt and equity with the mix yet to be determined.

The 13,000km Pacific Fibre project aims to provide an international data link between New Zealand, Australia and the United States with five times the capacity of the Telecom-backed connection.

Rushworth said the build cost, originally estimated at $900 million, was likely to be less than US$500 million ($702 million) as initial inquiries with suppliers have been converted to firm quotes.

A planned high-speed fibre link was yesterday given a boost with the emergence of several high-profile investors.

The line-up - described as "friends and family" of the original investment team - includes former Fairfax chief executive David Kirk, investment adviser Gareth Morgan, Seaworks chairman Bill Day and MYOB founder Craig Winkler.

They join founders Sam Morgan, Sir Stephen Tindall and Rod Drury.

Kirk will also be taking a position on the board.

Rushworth said the funding enables the project to move to the next phase of securing investment.

"What it does is get us through to taking that customer engagement we've had through to binding contracts and engaging an investment bank," Rushworth said.

A management team that includes Rushworth, fellow investors Lance Wiggs, telecommunications specialist John Humphrey and Australian-based sales director Mark Kuper have been meeting prospective customers.

Rushworth said customers see it as a way of driving competition. He said verbal commitments from customers are being converted into binding contracts, which will be presented to an investment bank.

Rushworth said about 80 per cent of the demand is likely to come out of Australia. "There is strong interest both from business and the state government around the potential Melbourne landing for diversity," Rushworth said.

At present the transtasman link lands at Sydney, but Rushworth said the Melbourne connection was a possibility.

Rushworth said there was also the potential for the cable to connect Samoa and Tonga.

A decision about a connection with Christchurch would be made in the next month before a request for final proposals goes out to vendors.

WEB LINK

* 13,000km long.

* Linking Australia and New Zealand to the US.

* Speeds of 5.12 terabits per second - more than 1,000,000 times faster than current broadband speeds to the home.

* Likely to cost up to $700 million - $200 million less than initially budgeted.

* Operational by 2013.

- NZ Herald

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