5 Jul 2012

Ultra fast broadband 'priority' for new commissioner

8:24 am on 5 July 2012

Tackling the rollout of ultra fast broadband and sorting out the ongoing local loop unbundling are two big challenges facing the new Telecommunications Commissioner Stephen Gale.

An economic advisor to the Government and businesses on energy, regulation and competition, Dr Gale was chosen from 43 other applicants for the job.

Stephen Gale is stepping into a brand new world of ultra fast broadband (UFB), a multi-billion dollar project rolling out thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cables, expected to deliver internet speeds of 100 megabits per second.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen says Dr Gale has a vital role in ensuring high numbers of people hook up to the network.

Mr Brislen says the whole UFB rollout is predicated on enough people taking it up that it becomes a success.

"Even though the real benefit of the UFB is, in economic terms, in growing New Zealand incorporated, in order to get to that point we need to make sure that Mums and Dads at home have access to it".

Mr Brislen says Dr Gale needs to tackle the issues of content and access to good quality high definition streaming video and also the cost of rollout which were identified by his predecessor Ross Patterson.

IDC research manager Peter Wise says no one can agree on who should pay for connecting individual households to the fibre running along the street.

He says service providers don't want to pay for a fibre connection cost, but nor do consumers.

Alongside cost is the debate over content, with Sky TV's competitors claiming that its dominant position in the TV market will hold back demand for ultra fast broadband.

Mr Wise says some are calling for Sky TV to be regulated.

But while content and cost are crucial consumer issues, industry players say there are other pressing matters.

Vodafone head of corporate affairs Tom Chignall says the regulator needs to make sure investors have incentives to invest in the long term.

He says investment cycles can be 10 to 20 years so it's important the commissioner gets that right going forward.

But Mr Chignall says more urgent than ultra fast broadband is the drawn out issue of unbundling the local loop and repricing copper-based services following the split of Telecom and the creation of Chorus.

He says the repricing of those services will set the scene for the intermediate period from now until fibre becomes pervasive.

Dr Gale starts his job next Thursday.