Minister says Kiwi broadband not 'third world' service

By Matt Greenop

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New Zealand is definitely not a third world broadband market, and the Government is driving a 'revolution' in telecommunications, according to Communications Minister David Cunliffe.

This was the reaction when Cunliffe was presented with results from the recent Herald broadband speed survey - which provoked dozens of reader comments, and an uncanny number of 'third world' references.

"The Government and the Commerce Commission are well aware of the public's demand for cheaper, faster broadband," he said.

"The Government's comprehensive package of measures announced last May is aimed at this same goal. We are driving ahead to implement the new policies and address the next generation of issues and opportunities."

He believes that New Zealand's telecommunications infrastructure is still suffering from problems created by the previous Government.

"The biggest mistakes of previous regimes were to privatise Telecom without an effective regulatory framework in place, then for the previous National government to rely on light-handed regulation and not demand appropriate information disclosure.

"This Government has mounted nothing less than a revolution in telecommunications in this country," he said.

He said it was "not fair" to describe New Zealand broadband as 'third world', pointing out that the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), which surveys internet speeds, is an association of first world countries.

New Zealand ranks 22nd out of the 30 countries in the international broadband ratings. The Government aim is to bump the country into the top 15 within the next three years.

A Statistics New Zealand ISP (internet service provider) study released last week showed that there are 724,600 broadband users.

"We can and will do better," he said, "but broadband is available to the vast majority of New Zealanders. Our target in the Digital Strategy is to be in the top half by 2010."

Cunliffe says there are a number of changes on the way that will put New Zealand in better broadband stead - including local loop unbundling, which many see as the biggest impediment to faster internet connections.

"The Government has made a number of changes to the regulatory environment for the telecommunications sector aimed at improving competition and investment incentives," he explains.

"In addition to the Telecommunications Amendment Act, the Government is implementing the initiatives from the telecommunications stocktake, released in May 2006, to improve broadband access in New Zealand."

These initiatives include removing constraints on the existing Unbundled Bitstream Service, so ISP can offer faster upload speeds; encouraging investment in infrastructure like fibre, wireless and satellite networks, and developing a better package for rural subscribers.

It will also increase the Commerce Commission's role in monitoring Telecom and the rest of the industry to ensure a competitive market.

"The Government is actively monitoring service gaps and likely investment patterns. It is developing a range of possible scenarios and options to further progress the public interest."

When asked what New Zealanders should expect as a bare minimum for high speed internet, he replied that connections should be comparable to most other OECD countries.

He says the Government is committed to delivering faster online performance for urban and rural customers.

"To the extent that broadband is a contributor to economic growth we all want better broadband and this Government is determined to deliver on this.

"We expect all areas of the country to move forward towards our digital strategy goals."

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