The latest broadband numbers reveal a rollout of two halves.
The public-private Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) urban rollout is nearing completion and offering a feast of fast internet for those living in towns and cities.
But a consumer advocate complains rural broadband coverage is still far behind - and that in some areas that have gained coverage, the internet speeds are not that flash - or what he calls "the stale donut of broadband coverage".
Fibre is now within reach of 85 per cent of the population, and 65 per cent are connected. Of those, 203,685 are now on superfast 1 gigabit per second connections, with even faster Hyperfibre an option.
The urban UFB rollout is on pace to finish as scheduled by the end of next year. In many areas, it's already complete.
But the other big public-private rollout, the two-stage Rural Broadband Initiative, continues to lag, as does a companion programme to address mobile blackspots in remote rural areas and tourist hotspots, due to be completed by 2023. RBI1 is scheduled to finish this year, RBI2 in 2023.
Although it's picked up speed recently, as of June 30, 37 cell towers had been built under the rural broadband and mobile blackspot programmes, or 58 per cent of the target around Northland, according to Crown Infrastructure Partners lastest Quarterly Connectivity Update. CIP administers the urban and rural rollouts, in partnership with Chorus, Enable, Ultrafast Fibre and NorthPower Fibre in urban areas, and the Rural Connectivity Group - a consortium backed by Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees, with some work contracted to Chorus - in rural areas for RBI2. RB1, which wrapped up in 2016, involved Vodafone fixed wireless and Chorus fibre for backhaul. A number of small independent wireless internet providers are also involved with RBI2.
In areas around Waikato, the 21 rural and mobile blackspot celltower builds are at 31 per cent of target. In the top of the South Island, it's 40 per cent of the target, in Hawke's Bay, it's 57 per cent with 27 new towers.
Around the Wellington region, with just two new towers constructed, the programmes are at just 11 per cent of their target.
"It's good to see progress continues, but we're keen to see the pace pick up on the RBI2 towers, which are only 46 per cent complete [overall] so far," Technology Users Association of NZ head Craig Young says.
"We're also are keen to hear from Crown Infrastructure Partners on plans to improve the capacity of the original RBI1 programme - what we call the stale donut of broadband coverage."
The Tuanz boss says the stats should start to focus less on areas reached, and more on whether it could truly be called fast internet in 2021.
"Over time coverage becomes less important than capacity, and over the long run becomes more critical to ensuring rural NZ doesn't get left further behind."
"The latest update from CIP shows significant improvement in connectivity throughout New Zealand, with the divide between Urban and rural access clearly shrinking," he says.
"Despite the challenges of Covid-19 over the past 12-18 months infrastructure is continuing to be deployed into more remote and underserved areas by our Wispa members along with the RCG.
"It's our hope that in the coming year we will see much of the remaining infrastructure completed across the programmme, reaching some the most remote places in New Zealand with broadband access.
"With over 67,606 homes and businesses now having access to improved broadband services, the RBI 2 initiative has proven that as an industry, WISP Regional operators and the Rural Connectivity Group, can partner successfully with Crown Infrastructure Partners and achieve a great outcome for New Zealand."
Waiting for Elon
Meanwhile, another rural broadband initiative is emerging via Elon Musk's plan to blanket the planet in thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites.
The first waves of his "Starlink" satellites have been launched, and six ground stations are being constructed around New Zealand by local partner Vocus.
Although Starlink is up and running, and coverage is gradually expanding, a number of locals who have paid their deposit say they are still waiting.
Coromandal man Simon Richie says he registered his interest with Starlink on November 20 last year and paid his $159 deposit on February 14.
But so far he's only had a brief update from the satellite operator saying "Starlink will begin offering service in your area beginning mid to late 2021".
Once his DIY-install, $799 Starlink dish arrives, Richie should get unlimited data satellite broadband at up to 150Mbps for $159 per month. The price is sharp for satellite broadband, and the unlimited data (for however long that open-ended promotion lasts) is unique at that price-point.
Despite the toe-tapping, Ritchie tells the Herald, "roll-on Starlink".
He says others have failed to cater to his area, despite it being just 75km from Auckland as the crow flies.
"We can't get any fibre at our address and are never going to according to Chorus. We're stuck with slow, flakey copper and no prospect of any network upgrade," he says.
"There's no Wisp [wireless internet service provider] and we have no cellular coverage of any sort."
He adds, "Would that the telcos and network operators spend a little time and effort doing something for rural New Zealand rather than providing better and better services for the townies.
"And the government doesn't really understand the word 'rural'. Their Rural Broadband Initiative is aimed just at areas near state highways and places where tourists congregate."