COMMENT

Our Australian cousins look down their noses at us on so many fronts.

Broadband used to be one.

No longer. The Aussies are now envious of our internet.

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"New Zealanders will soon be getting internet speeds 20 times faster than those enjoyed by most Australians for just a few dollars more a month, further widening an already-huge gap between the two countries' broadband networks," the AFR reports.

The paper notes that while the fastest speed available on Australia's public-private National Broadband Network (NBN) is 50 megabits per second (Mbps), New Zealanders can already get a one gigabit (1000 Mpbs) plan, which Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) network operator Chorus wholesales to ISPs for $65 a month.

Chorus will drop the price of its 1 Gbps plan to $60 from mid next year, then to $56 a month to in mid 2020.

Talking amongst ourselves, we can agree, that the UFB rollout has been far from perfect.

For much of the project, householders faced epic waits for installs, which were often imperfect. And in their efforts rushed efforts to add staff at low cost to reduce wait-times, the companies Chorus works with for UFB installs fell foul of the Labour Inspectorate over "volunteer work," lack of holiday pay and other, alleged widespread violations of our employment laws.

And it remains something of political plaything for those prone to pork-barrel politics from, from former Communications Minister Amy Adams who slapped telcos with a new industry tax to help pay for the UFB's companion project, the Rural Broadband Initiative, to Shane Jones $40m raid on the Provincial Fund this week to help fill fast internet gaps in the countryside.

But overall, the UFB has given world-class broadband. It's good for business, and it's busting open the media market.

On the other side of the ditch, "Australia's NBN project is a poster child for inept deployment and appalling process. In years to come we will study the NBN as how not to deploy critical infrastructure," tech commentator Paul Brislen says.

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Why is our UFB so good, while the Aussie's NBN is such a mess?

Telecommunications Users Association head Craig Young says it's because we have a consistent rollout strategy, and it's a good one: fibre to the premise. That is, fibre that comes into your home, rather than stopping at the footpath with bung old copper lines used for the last few meters.

"That consistent strategy is showing real benefits now. We are staying ahead of the curve internationally and definitely against our Australian cousins suffering under the NBN which became a political issue."

As governments have changed, and various administrations been at war with each other, the NBN has been an unruly stew of fibre to the premise, fibre to the node (a neighbourhood cabinet), fibre to the curb and other solutions, while wholesale pricing has been a similar, ever-changing mess.

Here, but contrast, we've had a remarkable policy consensus from the Helen Clark government through the John Key regime to the Jacinda Ardern administration.

By Chorus' numbers for NZ (above), most of us are on 100 megabit per second or faster connections. In Australia, fewer than 10 per cent are on 100Mbps or faster, with most on 50 Mbps or slower.
By Chorus' numbers for NZ (above), most of us are on 100 megabit per second or faster connections. In Australia, fewer than 10 per cent are on 100Mbps or faster, with most on 50 Mbps or slower.

The only surprise surprise along the way has been that John Key and Steven Joyce took the reforms of David Cunliffe and Paul Swain (operationally separating Telecom and a modest, $300m public-private broadband rollout) then amplified them with the structural separation of Telecom into Spark and Chorus, and their decision to spend $2b+ on the UFB and RBI.

Sitting in opposition post-2008, Cunliffe had little scope to object, for Key and Joyce had effectively out-Laboured Labour. For the same reason, National's telco bill resetting the regulatory environment post-2019 - which passed its second reading before the election - was barely changed in Select Committee under the current government. It's one big centralist party, with broad agreement about the benefits of a little strategic intervention.

Today, Young is quietly chuffed. His consumer group was one of the main advocates of fibre-to-the-home.

But he also warns, "We now need to keep going with the investment and ensure that as many people can get fast and affordable connectivity as possible."