The government has effectively raided the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund to top up the budget for the second phase of its rural broadband initiative, filling in mobile ‘black spots’ and ensuring broadband is available to marae that don’t have access now.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Communications Minister Kris Faafoi announced the funding, which will be added to the $105 million already allocated for the expansion of the RBI2 and mobile black spot fund. The work, being led by Crown Infrastructure Partners, is to reduce as far as possible the remaining 90,000 rural households and businesses that were identified last year as having slower broadband speeds than most of the rest of the country.
Some 74,000 of those 90,000 households and businesses were initially intended to be covered by 2022 with the $105 million funding by a joint venture comprising Spark, Vodafone and 2Degrees, dubbed the Rural Connectivity Group.
Details of the expanded roll-out have yet to be announced, but CIP general manager of government and industry affairs Nick Manning told BusinessDesk that the additional funding was to extend the programme “even further” than previously announced.
The additional $40 million will be spent in the six so-called ‘surge’ regions where the PGF is seeking to have its greatest impact – Northland, Bay of Plenty, Tairawhiti, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu-Whanganui and the West Coast, Jones and Faafoi said.
Manning said tendering for the $105 million RBI2/MBSF programme “has been in train this year … and the $40 million has been added into this”.
“Costs for the original RBI2/MBSF programme as contracted in 2017 have not been higher than anticipated. There has been no cost blowout,” Manning said in emailed comments.