Joyce fronts up on broadband issues at NetHui

By Hamish Fletcher

During a speech on broadband at the NetHui conference this morning, Communications Minister Steven Joyce was quizzed on a potential competition issue when Telecom breaks up later this year. Photo / Brett Phibbs
During a speech on broadband at the NetHui conference this morning, Communications Minister Steven Joyce was quizzed on a potential competition issue when Telecom breaks up later this year. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Communications Minister Steven Joyce appears to have escaped lightly from a meeting with hundreds of the web community today, with few asking questions critical of Government policy.

During a speech on broadband at the NetHui conference this morning, Joyce received questions from the audience, including one on a potential competition issue when Telecom breaks up later this year.

Telecom's retail branch is set to split from network-arm Chorus later this year as part of its role in the ultra-fast broadband scheme.

Chorus will become a separate listed company and will rollout fibre internet cable in 24 cities and towns around New Zealand.

UFB hopes to deliver internet speeds of 100 megabits to 75 per cent of the country by the end of 2019.

Scoop's Alastair Thompson suggested there could be a competition issue in the telecommunications market if New Zealand's only international internet link, the Southern Cross cable, is tied to Telecom's retail business.

The Telecom group has a 50 per cent stake in Southern Cross.

Joyce brushed off the question and said it would be inappropriate for him to comment before the matter was put to Telecom shareholders.

Other questions focused on how the Government would ensure there was adequate demand on the UFB network.

Xero founder and Pacific Fibre board member Rod Drury asked if the industry and Government could work together to ensure New Zealand has access to more online multi-media content.

"We're very concerned there will be all this fibre that is laid in front of people's houses but they're not going to connect to it. Some of the big issues that need to be worked out are on the content pools," Drury said.

"At the moment New Zealanders can't get to US TV content. If we could work out what the blocker is on that, it would drive a whole lot of things forward. NetFlix aren't providing a service down here and that would drive a whole lot of demand. These are things which individual companies would find it hard to do, but if we worked together we would make things a lot easier," he asked.

In response, Joyce said he hoped Drury was not asking for any money to help commercial organisations free up content.

"The Government side of it is to look where there are gaps in the market that aren't going to get filled and fill that gap...I don't really see the need to set up another group [to talk about demand on UFB] I'd rather we got on with it. To that extent, I'm probably at the do end of the hui," Joyce said.

During his speech, Joyce said he was pleased that broadband contracts had been signed and regulatory issues resolved so discussions could move to how New Zealand would benefit from faster internet.

Joyce said the Government could do a lot more to drive use on the ultra-fast broadband network.

"There's a huge amount that Government can do to lead this stuff. And I would say that our performance, across the political divide, has been average to date.

"There's a lot of agencies that aren't up to date on their ability to work online with people on a whole range of transactions that you'd expect. It has been, in some instances, clunky," he said.

- NZ Herald

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