Key Points:

One of the biggest challengers in the telecommunications business, TelstraClear, has attacked National Party plans for a fibre-optic network, saying the party should be focused on business.

The telco says the main result of faster broadband links to the home may be more downloads of pornography and movies rather than improvements to productivity.

National's idea for a direct-to-homes network launched in April caused a flurry with organisations such as the Telecommunications Users Association, which praised it as visionary shift to lift New Zealand out of its low broadband ratings.

But since April National has revealed little more and the party said last week that firm detail might not be ready until the end of next year.

TelstraClear chief executive Allan Freeth says there is no rush.

He says the proposed $1.5 billion taxpayer funds for a new regulated utility, attracting private-sector investment, does not take account of demand.

Proposals for fibre-to-the-home were built on "political opportunism and a lot of hype", he told the Business Herald.

The New Zealand arm of Australian telco giant Telstra, with a 14 per cent share of our market, had been meeting National leaders John Key and Bill English.

Freeth, who is leading TelstraClear into a big period of expansion with a new fixed-line network, was scathing about fibre-to-the-home assumptions.

"That view has made us unpopular with some," he said.

Vodafone Communications boss Tom Chignell was more diplomatic but confirmed the company was concerned at the focus on fibre-optic over other technologies such as wireless.

Telecom stands to benefit under the National plan and has not commented on proposals.

Opposition communications spokesman Maurice Williamson could not be reached. But National press secretary Brent Webling said the plan would be a high priority for next year when National (if elected) had access to Government information.

National's plan is similar to proposals from the New Zealand Institute think-tank headed by David Skilling.

Freeth said: "What we are seeing is a series of questionable studies and hype", pushing fibre links to the home as a priority.

He questioned the level of demand for super-fast broadband and asked how fibre to the home in Hokitika would help the economy.

Fibre in the main street - that might be useful, he said.

There were still a lot of people on dial-up internet connections out there who used it for email.

Freeth said existing technology such as ADSL and the newer VDSL, combined with Telecom's cabinetisation programme, where fibre-optic links exchanges to cabinets or "nodes", would be just as valuable as fibre to the home.

Politicians and local bodies planning fibre-optic rollouts should be careful because they could discourage investors such as Telstra from investing.

"There is no doubt that in 15 to 20 years the bandwidth requirement of the normal household will require fibre or a wireless equivalent.

"At the moment we don't believe that putting fibre into every home is economic or necessary."


* National and Labour's stance on broadband offer one of the few clear policy differences.
* National wants fibre-optic cable direct to 75 per cent of homes offering super-fast broadband.
* Taxpayers would invest $1.5b.
* Labour proposes input of $340 million over five years for all technologies, not just fibre-optic cable.
* Vodafone is wary, warning that National's plans pay too little attention to wireless and mobile phone technology.
* Telstra Clear says National plans linked to private investment might be too ambitious and should be focused on business.