The government has made $50 million more available for rural broadband, drawn from the $3 billion pool for "shovel-ready" projects under the Covid Response and Recovery Fund.
Advocacy groups were quick to welcome the joint announcement by Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones and Communications Minister Kris Faafoi.
But there was also a degree of frustration with the lack of detail.
The $50m announcement came with only one immediate project specified: broadband connections for 380 households and businesses in Jones' backyard of Northland with access to Ultrafast Broadband in a project.
"The funding enables Northpower Fibre to extend improved broadband capacity in certain areas around Whangarei, Dargaville and Mangawhai Heads," Jones said.
Beyond the minister's home patch, there were only broad stroke indications.
The funding would help unspecified parts of Bay of Plenty, Waikato, top of the south and Canterbury, secondly, Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Auckland rural areas and Otago, and thirdly Hawke's Bay, West Coast, Taranaki, rural Wellington and Southland, with partners yet to be named.
This isn't the first time that close-contest Northland has been at the front of the broadband queue.
At the last election, National made the marginal electorate ground-zero for new UFB2 spending.
Technology Users Association of NZ head Craig Young welcomed the policy but said it "needs more detail".
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And although the first slice of the $50m has gone to corporate incumbent NorthPower Fibre, Wispa (Wireless Internet Service Providers Association) head Mike Smith hoped his members would get a significant chunk of the new funding.
"Covid-19 saw a substantial increase in rural Internet traffic for education, business and social reasons, in the country as much as in towns. WISPs [small, independent wireless ISPs] coped extremely well, but there is now a need to upgrade our networks to recognise that this is a permanent change in traffic patterns and not just a temporary aberration."
With the urban Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) public-private rollout now entering its mature stages (it hit the one million connection milestone on Friday), attention is turning to gaps in rural coverage, where progress has been slower, and the looming forced-march from copper for technology laggards (residents of Devonport and Miramar will shortly become the first to lose service if they don't upgrade to UFB fibre or fixed-wireless).
The $50m digital connectivity package - which comes on top of a $15m top-up in April - is intended to address rural connectivity issues that arose during the Covid-19 lockdown, Jones said.
In particular, it aims to increase broadband availability in areas where congestion and capacity constraints emerged during lockdown. This typically occurred in high density rural and urban fringe areas.
Faafoi said that the focus of the $50m funding would be on creating new broadband capacity and availability in the areas with the greatest congestion, now and in the future, and would be open to any form of broadband technology.
"People who live in semi-rural lifestyle areas around towns and cities often experience broadband congestion due to certain technologies not having enough capacity during peak times, which became even more pronounced during the Covid-19 lockdown," Faafoi
Rural rollout lagging
Crown Infrastructure Partners' first-quarter report makes good reading for urban dwellers, with the aforementioned 1 million UFB fibre connection milestone.
Some 58 per cent of homes and business within reach of UFB fibre have now connected. With the urban public-private project now down to its last couple of years, 82 per cent of Kiwis can now access super-fast fibre.
Most (67 per cent) are on 100 megabit per second plans, the fibre entry-level here but more than twice the bandwidth of the average fixed-line plan across the Tasman, if due for a hotly-disputed regulated price rise in October.
Some 132,659 are on 1 gigabit per second connections - or some fo the fastest residential broadband available on the planet.
But the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) and the Mobile Black Spot Fund (MBSF) have more mixed numbers - particularly in terms of new cell towers being built by the Rural Connectivity Group (a joint venture between Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees, with backhaul by Chorus).
In Auckland, for example, the UFB has 66 per cent uptake, but RBI2 and MBSF lag on the rural fringe with only two mobile towers or 8 per cent of the target built.
Bay of Plenty has three new towers or 9 per cent of the target; Gisborne has two towers or 12 per cent of the total.
The West Coast is easily the best-placed, relatively speaking, with 15 mobile towers built to cover gaps in broadband and mobile coverage - or 30 per cent of the target.