“… upgrading of the local cabinet … is not a part of the priorities agreed to between the government and Chorus.”
Progress on the government’s 5-year Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) is ahead of schedule at the end of its third year according to spokespersons from Vodafone and Chorus.

The $300 million RBI contracts were awarded jointly to Chorus and Vodafone in April 2011 with the contract commencing on July 1st, 2011.

There are two user objectives in the RBI contracts – the Schools Objective and the Community Objective..

The Schools Objective provides for ultra fast broadband to be available to 95% of rural schools by July 2015.

The Community Objective provides for 86% of rural households and businesses to have access to broadband peak speeds of at least 5Mbps.  At the start of the contract, the government estimated that only 20% of rural premises could access that speed.

Data released at the Auckland region RBI update meeting last week, details Chorus’ expectation that the Schools Objective will be completed in Year 4 of the programme – by June 2015.

Only three schools in the Franklin district are awaiting a high speed broadband connection – Awhitu District School plus Ararimu and Orere Schools.

The timing of the Digital Microwave Radio system to the Awhitu School is marked as ‘TBA’ (To Be Advised) in Chorus’ schedule but will be installed before July 2015.

Nationally, only around one third of schools that can connect to a fibre network, have actually done so.  The gap is largely due to an issue of affordability with many schools waiting for funding under the government’s N4L (Network 4 Learning) programme.

Progress on the Community Objective, which is shared by Vodafone and Chorus, is also ahead of schedule.

Vodafone have completed over half of their 154 new tower builds and around two thirds of their 387 cell site upgrades.

An issue for me is that Vodafone promoted their RBI bid on the basis of prices and speeds being similar to those of urban areas.  Three years in to the contract, this boast is still not being met.

Much of the Chorus RBI network will also be available to meet rural demand.  Chorus will do this with both fibre and copper-based DSL services.

Chorus "Fibre in Rural Communities"

Chorus “Fibre in Rural Communities” network in Franklin

For those rural people living on a fibre route that is equipped with special ducting, Chorus have recently introduced a new product to Retail Service Providers (RSPs) – ’Fibre in Rural Communities’.

Released in the first quarter of this year and accessible only through some RSPs, this service provides a fibre connection to addresses that are passed by fibre in a specific type of duct.

The service is priced the same as for urban UFB fibre even though it does not come within the contracted prices agreed in lieu of regulated pricing for UFB.  However, and unlike standard UFB connections that are installed free of charge, rural fibre does attract an installation charge.

One might have reasonably expected that installing fibre to a school would result in the upgrading of the local cabinet.  But that is not a part of the priorities agreed to between the government and Chorus.

So for those not on a “rural fibre-enabled” fibre route, there is a second part to Chorus’ offer to rural communities.

This is for a community-led initiative to have Chorus install electronic equipment to connect between the fibre cabinet and local copper cables.  The capital cost is a charge against the community (typically around $30,000) but it is a means to solving the local connectivity issues that was not previously available.