Around 40,000 rural householders will need to leave the couch (nay, the house) to watch the full gamut of Rugby World Cup matches this year. That's because their broadband won't be good enough to stream the games.

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That was the message from the bosses of Crown Infrastructure Partners, the body tasked with providing ultra-fast and rural broadband to New Zealanders.

Quizzed by MPs on the Transport and Infrastructure select committee, CIP's chair Simon Allen and chief executive Graham Mitchell said the second Rural Broadband Initiative rollout was still in its early stages, but had already seen 31,000 households hooked up.


That will have increased by the time the World Cup kicks off in Japan on September 20. However an estimated 40,000 households, many who still have only dial-up level internet speeds, will have to look at finding a pub or a friend with better broadband, Mitchell said.

Only seven RWC games will be screened free-to-air on TVNZ; the others will be available only by streaming them on a broadband or mobile connection via telecommunications company Spark.

Asked by MP Paul Goldsmith whether the network would cope with a huge increase in traffic with everyone streaming world cup games, Allen was optimistic.

"The ultra-fast broadband wholesale fibre network has ample capacity. It will well and truly cope with the increase. And the rural networks will be engineered to cope with it, though not all the rural build will be finished by then."

Less certain is how the broadband retailer networks will handle the stress - particularly Spark, which hasn't had to deal with such potentially large spikes in traffic before.

Sports streaming has had its dire moments overseas over recent years, including a major failure with Aussie telco Optus' Fifa World Cup stream July last year.

Meanwhile it wasn't all about rugby at the Transport and Infrastructure select committee. The MPs also asked questions about Crown Infrastructure Partners' Haast mobile phone blackspot upgrade - the sole policeman is happy to at last be able to communicate from accident or crime scenes.

Allen and Mitchell also updated MPs about the East Coast broadband project (only a handful of households should be unable to connect when it's finished) and CIP's new(ish) role facilitating roading and wastewater infrastructure funding for new housing developments.


The flagship Milldale project, at Wainui north of Auckland, will see CIP finance over half of the estimated $91.3 million cost of bulk infrastructure for 9000 houses.

The funding model, which sees section owners repay the money for the infrastructure over 30 years, aims to take the pressure off councils who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford this infrastructure - at least in the short- to medium-term.

"Milldale was going to be built over 30 years," Allen said. "By CIP putting the money in, it has brought the project forward 20 years."

Crown Infrastructure Partners is also looking at developments in other parts of Auckland, and in Tauranga, Hamilton, and Queenstown. But it wasn't easy to know when (or if) the others might happen

"Milldale is the only announced model, but we have workstreams across others. It's a bit like a horse race - you don't know who's going to win."

Still the MPs on the select committee seemed happy, quipping that CIP, which under its previous incarnation as Crown Fibre Holdings dealt only with broadband, should broaden its scope.


As National's Judith Collins joked: "You wouldn't want to take over the city rail link, would you?"

Spark responds

"While the vast majority of New Zealand households will be able to watch Spark Sport, we've always been clear that there will be a small minority whose broadband isn't streaming ready. That just a reality of NZ broadband infrastructure, that we've been open about from the day we won the Rugby World Cup rights," a spokesperson for Spark says.

The telco is set to reveal its full World Cup plan, including how it will cater to those without ultrafast broadband, during April.

"We know that New Zealanders have a very special place in their hearts for the All Blacks and the Rugby World Cup, so this is top of mind as we firm up plans for how New Zealanders can watch critical games," the spokeswoman says.

"To help New Zealanders think about whether they will be able to watch the Rugby World Cup on Spark Sport, here are a few thoughts on that front:

"The speed you need to watch Spark Sport really depends on what kind of device you are planning to watch on. If you want to stream on a smart TV, you will need faster speeds than if you are streaming on a mobile.


"The general rule of thumb is that if you can watch streamed content (such as a YouTube video or Lightbox) on the device that you want to watch Spark Sport on during peak hours (8-9pm in the evening), and are happy with the viewing experience, you should be ok to watch the Rugby World Cup.

"The quality of a broadband connection is just part of the story. A number of factors will influence the streaming experience you get on your device, including your modem (and where in the house it is located), the device you use to watch streaming content, and the number of other devices also connected to your WiFi network. We recommend that customers take the time in the run up to the Rugby World Cup to check their in-home set up.

"We're offering a free 30-day trial at launch so that customers can test out the streaming experience of Spark Sport in their home."