Crown Infrastructure Partners reports a total of 966,773 homes and businesses were connected to the UFB fibre network at the end of March.
A further 17,038 connections were added in the first three months of 2020.
Across the country UFB uptake is now at 58 per cent. Rolleston remains the most connected town with a 76 per cent uptake.
The extended UFB build, that’s the first and second phases, has reached 91 per cent and is running slightly ahead of schedule.
Faster and faster UFB
There is a clear move to the fastest UFB plans. CIP CEO Graham Mitchell says just under 22,000 homes and businesses moved to gigabit connections in the first quarter.
Around 82 per cent of New Zealanders can now connect to the fibre network. It operated 169 cities and towns across the country.
Outside of urban areas the Rural Broadband Initiative increased its footprint by 3,078 homes and businesses in the first quarter of 2020. The network also connected 52 marae — if you are an overseas reader that’s a Māori meeting house.
A total of 27 new rural cellular towers began operating in the quarter. There are now 86 new rural towers nationwide serving around 46,000 connections.
How are we doing?
The big picture is positive. The fibre network proved its worth before the Covid–19 lockdown, but that only went to amplify its importance.
Fibre reaches a little over four-fifths of New Zealanders. Things are a little less clearcut when it comes to the remainder of the country.
Those rural users who live in sight of an RBI tower and are not waiting for a spare connection have a good fixed wireless experience. Performance can slow a little at times, but for most purposes RBI fixed wireless delivers.
Likewise people with the good fortune to be serviced by a Wisp — wireless internet service provider — are likely to get the broadband they need.
The problem comes for everyone else. That’s, perhaps as much as 10 per cent of the population, probably more like six or seven per cent. These are people who don’t have fibre, a capable Wisp or line of sight to a cellular tower.
Given the small number and the importance of decent broadband, it should be possible over time to fill in more and more of these gaps. The cost per connection might be high and it may be unrealistic to expect these people to pay the same as city folk. That is a decision for telcos and government policymakers.