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Creative accounting? Labour questions Phase 2 of govt's UFB plan

Labour’s ICT spokesperson Clare Curran is calling on tax payers to ask where the money is coming from for the second phase of the Government’s UFB programme.

Curran says in 2014 the Government promised $210 million for the second phase of UFB, to be paid for from the Future Investment Fund, which she says is already oversubscribed.

“Almost three years later they’ve increased the cost by another $100m, which they say is tacked onto the original UFB allocation,” says Curran.

Curran says it sounds like creative accounting, and the indications are that Chorus has played hard ball to get the biggest share of the deal on its terms.

“Many communities that are struggling now with poor connectivity are going to have to wait until 2023/24 to get UFB, which is a lifetime in internet years,” Curran says.

“The UFB2 roll-out looks good on paper but it may prove to be a white elephant as competitors move to deliver a better service than a trouble-plagued and stalled Government programme,” she explains.

“A new law before Parliament, which will likely pass through the rest of its stages to become law early next year, allows electricity lines companies to string broadband fibre along electricity lines, which will enable immediate regional development opportunities for all of rural New Zealand,” Curran says.

“The new law is not existing Government policy and occurred through a Select Committee process driven by the opposition parties, right under the nose of the Minister while negotiations for the UFB2 were stalled,” she says.

“As a result, Chorus may now find itself outflanked by electricity lines companies eager to deliver fibre faster for their regions than the state programme’s timetable,” she says.

“What is the point of Chorus being subsidised to inefficiently overbuild fibre where smaller, more agile providers have already laid fibre or have announced their intention to do so?”

According to Curran, under the Government’s programme, those living on the fringes of Auckland, Taupo, Rotorua, Napier/Hastings, Upper Hutt, Nelson and Queenstown will have to wait until 2024 to get fast fibre.

If you live in Kaitaia, Warkworth, Wellsford, Otorohanga, Whangamata, Kaikoura, Culverden, Waimate, Waikouaiti and many more towns, you’ll be waiting until 2023/24 to get connected.

“The fact is that other competitors are likely to deliver fibre faster than the state-funded programme, which leaves taxpayers asking whether this money is well spent,” she says.

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