Delivering better broadband for Marlborough - an update for Council and stakeholders
In March of last year, Government announced it was providing an additional tranche of funding to address concerns and support the delivery of urban and rural broadband. This comprised $152 million to $210 million for Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB2), $100 million to expand the coverage of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI2) and also $50 million to improve Mobile Black Spots (MBS). Council was an applicant for this funding. This paper serves to provide an update on both the status of Crown funding and Council’s own strategies to improve broadband/cellular coverage across Marlborough.
From April to June 2015, Marlborough District Council engaged in a series of meetings and public forums, supported by a steering group which included representatives of the local MP’s electorate office, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, IT industry and Council. There were widespread indications of dissatisfaction with current broadband and mobile coverage, particularly in the Marlborough Sounds and rural Marlborough areas. In July 2015, Council submitted its registration of interest (ROI) response-support document to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), seeking funding allocation for the district. Council has recognised that given the scale of demand and the previous pattern of provision by large telecommunications providers, no matter what funding Marlborough won from the Crown, this would not satisfy all reasonable expectations for improvement in coverage. Council therefore also submitted an Alternate Approach document which suggested the Crown provide its second-round funding for broadband/mobile coverage improvements to Council. This funding would be used for a stand-alone Council-controlled entity which would work independently with large and small telecommunications providers to supply a wider network of Marlborough communities with better services.
The Crown chose not to consider this alternate approach. However, it continued to set expectations that communities such as Marlborough stood to gain from Crown funding. After further engagement with key stakeholders, a follow-on high level document, required by MBIE - a Digital Enablement Plan - was also prepared and submitted in September 2015.
Councils were asked by Government to engage with communities to support uptake, facilitate consent processes, support more rapid deployment and allow for more cost effective delivery. There was a clear expectation that councils would continue to implement their DEPs, as the Crown considered the case for any regional allocations of funds to assist with broadband expansion. It was stated that decisions on Crown funding for UFB2 (Picton is a prime candidate and hopefully also Renwick) would be announced by the middle of 2016, with RBI2 and Mobile Black Spots funding to follow that.
Indications now are that the demand from councils across New Zealand for UFB2, RBI2 and MBS funding will far exceed the budgets proposed by the Crown. Recent media announcements suggest that decisions on funding allocation have been delayed again. Moreover, the Government has replaced MBIE as the lead agency on the project, with Crown Fibre Holdings now having far more involvement. MBIE remains responsible for policy settings. While some funding will be available from the Crown, this will need to be supplemented to meet the demand for high quality broadband and mobile coverage, regardless of location. There are a range of options to provide broadband expansion, which Council can support and facilitate. These include local community initiatives, iwi partnerships, commercial offerings, projects supported by Council with commercial investment, and Council-facilitated business partnerships or some other form of delivery partnership. Council has identified the importance of better connectivity across Marlborough communities as a core component of its Smart and Connected framework to drive and secure sustainable economic growth for the region. Council is also increasingly aware of the need for Marlborough to develop increased regional resilience.
Council has engaged specialist support via Creative Development Solutions (Creative) led by Brendon Burns and Dayal Phillips, who largely wrote the ROI and alternate approach documents.
Council has asked Creative to undertake work to integrate and tie back to the alternate approach proposal submitted in the ROI response and to ensure that Marlborough is best positioned for its digital future, the uptake of contributing government funding plus the improvement of broadband delivery and uptake across Marlborough, all in alignment with the Smart and Connected strategy. This work commences with this update to Council and stakeholders.
Creative is also commencing work on a regional broadband deployment scoping study. This will investigate and progress access and technical solutions for high-speed wireless deployment which would cover all of Marlborough and potentially reach all but about 1% of remote and rural populations, including the Sounds.
This project would deliver on Council’s requirements for SmartCompliance monitoring for water and other rural and remote uses.
It would also provide Marlborough residents and business with affordable fast internet, allowing economic development and growth based on knowledge, education and connectivity. In particular improved public health and safety would also be achieved by extending cellphone coverage.
An updated steering group will be brought together to allow community and technical input into the workstream to deliver better broadband and cellular coverage across Marlborough.
It is proposed that a meeting of interested stakeholders be held in the near future hosted by Marlborough District Council. If you wish to register your interest, please contact Council’s project liaison Katie Covell on email: email@example.com.
There is also a meeting being organised for the first week of July with locally-based broadband suppliers to update them on Council’s plans and potential opportunities which may arise.
It is proposed that as with last year, local media will be kept informed of Council’s project, and illustrative story opportunities will be developed. If you have an experience around either currently poor or perfect connectivity, please contact Creative’s engagement lead Brendon Burns on email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I remain overall lead for Council on this project, so please address any wider questions to me in the first instance. Council sees this as a project which will lead to Marlborough having among the best-connected citizens anywhere in New Zealand.