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Current as of 09/12/16 07:39PM NZST
Sophie Ryan is online editor for the Business Herald

Chorus boss: 'We don't have the staff'

An example of the poorly laid fibre cables bothering customers. Chorus CEO says the company is struggling to find workers. Photo / Supplied
An example of the poorly laid fibre cables bothering customers. Chorus CEO says the company is struggling to find workers. Photo / Supplied

The job of connecting New Zealanders to ultra-fast broadband is 60 per cent completed for Chorus, but frustrations are boiling over as its workforce struggles with the high demand.

Chorus has been at the helm of the $1.35 billion project of rolling out fibre that allows New Zealanders to consume broadband at an ever-increasing rate.

"We're slightly ahead of the target agreed with the Government ... We largely have to finish off Auckland and Wellington, the rest of the country is finished or will be finished in the next few months," said Chorus chief executive Mark Ratcliffe.

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But, there have been connection delays and complications, and people are frustrated with having to wait.

The pace of the roll-out and the unexpectedly high uptake of people wanting to connect their homes to the fibre laid in their street has stretched Chorus' workforce and its contractors to the limit.

Chorus Chief Executive Mark Ratcliffe. Photo / Supplied
Chorus Chief Executive Mark Ratcliffe. Photo / Supplied

"We connect about 600 customers a day to the network, which is double what we were doing this time last year. That's all new work, so it needs new people to join the industry."

Ratcliffe said about 24 per cent of people with access to fibre are requesting connections.

"We need technical skills and we're struggling like the rest of the construction sector to find people to do the work," he said.

Most of Chorus' migrant workers are coming from India and Philippines, and despite an influx of skilled migrant workers, Ratcliffe said the company was looking for more staff.

A Bill introduced by Communications Minister Amy Adams to reduce wait times for connections by making the consenting process easier passed its first reading on Tuesday night.

A number of examples of poorly laid fibre were highlighted in the Herald this week, including ducting that was not buried and taped to fences.

Ratcliffe said it was "disappointing" to see jobs being completed at that standard, and put it down to inexperienced staff not being adequately supervised.

"We've gone through a growth spurt of getting technicians, now we've got to focus on getting the quality back up to the standard expected. We're increasing supervisory staff and staff that can do audits and quality checks."

While Chorus lays the fibre network and connects properties to it, it's up to internet service providers (ISPs), like Spark and Vodafone, to field the requests for connection.

The communication between Chorus and the ISPs has been criticised, and Ratcliffe said work was continuing to improve it.

Work was continuing to merge the systems of ISPs with Chorus, and while "the basics are in place", it's a work in progress, Ratcliffe said.

This is a once in a generation upgrade. All the stuff we're putting in place future proofs every house in New Zealand.

"We're trying to avoid the difficulties of working together showing up for the customers. We're not always successful on that, but that's the objective."

Ratcliffe's household has been connected and an electrical engineer from India, who had been working as a waiter in a restaurant until the roll-out began, did the job.

The current disruption and frustration would be forgotten in the future, Ratcliffe said. "I think when people look back in 15 years time they'll have forgotten what all the fuss was about.

"This is a once in a generation upgrade. All the stuff we're putting in place future proofs every house in New Zealand."

Roll out:

• Fibre roll out is 60 per cent completed.

• 18 regional towns are complete.

• Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch roll out is over half way.

• Uptake is at 24 per cent.

• Roll out expected to be completed by end of 2019.

- NZ Herald

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