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Current as of 27/09/16 06:59PM NZST
Sophie Ryan is a Business Herald digital journalist.

Broadband now the '4th utility'

The telecommunications sector is facing a similar regulation structure as the energy sector.

Communications Minister Amy Adams announced the future regulation of copper and fibre services, in a similar way to the way electricity lines were regulated.

Adams described the decisions announced as "high-level policy decisions" that can help the Telecommunications Act stay up to date with the changes to the industry.

"Digital technologies are transforming the way New Zealanders live, work and do business. To help reach our 2025 broadband target and to keep our economy growing, we need the right laws in place to make sure high quality and affordable communication services are available for consumers and businesses," Adams said.

The new regulation for the fixed-line network will have greatest impact on Chorus, the owner of the bulk of the country's copper and fibre network.

Chief executive Mark Ratcliffe said the announcement recognises broadband as an essential utility - much like electricity, water and gas.

"Today's announcement by the Government effectively recognises broadband as the fourth utility."

A review of the 15 year-old Telecommunications Act is also likely to see tweaks to the existing regime for mobile telecommunications infrastructure, to force more sharing of mobile towers by competitors and the possibility of regulation for the price of roaming services to promote mobile competition, which is judged to be "still vulnerable".

"While there's a requirement for telcos to provide a roaming service over their physical networks, there's no regulatory requirement on the price they can charge," Adams told BusinessDesk, referring to the mobile competition issues.

"It's all very well to have a requirement to offer something, but if the price can't somehow be looked at it can be effectively defeated by non-economic charging."

Current unbundling requirements will remain to encourage ultra-fast broadband innovation, a move Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners supported.

"Access to the underlying fibre infrastructure is essential for driving innovation, investment and competitive pricing for Kiwi consumers," Stanners said.

The Government ruled out making any changes to the regulation of broadcasting infrastructure.

"Consumers have access to an ever increasing selection of entertainment content online and through traditional television. Digital convergence means the broadcasting sector is facing more competition than ever at both the retail and network level, so doesn't warrant any regulatory intervention at this stage," Adams said.

Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand chief executive Craig Young said until there more detail was released on the proposals the impact would not be fully understood.

"These decision are generally in line with our submission to the original discussion paper," Young said.

"We are generally supportive of the move to the utility style regulations and will engage in the discussion on the specifics to ensure we vigorously support the right outcomes for business and consumer users of these services."

Read the full announcement from Communications Minister here:

- with BusinessDesk

- NZ Herald

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