Bill introduced to improve telecommunications servicesA bill to provide a framework for the government’s broadband policies and to reform the Telecommunications Service Obligations (TSO) framework received its First Reading in Parliament today.“The First Reading of this bill is an important step towards the government’s goal of improving the availability, quality and price of telecommunications services in New Zealand,” says the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Steven Joyce.The government is in the midst of finalising details for its two fast broadband initiatives:• The Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) initiative, which will see fibre enabling speeds of 100 Mbps rolled out to 75 per cent of New Zealanders where they live, work and study.• The Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), which will see 80 per cent of rural households getting speeds of at least 5 Mbps and the remainder receiving at least 1 Mbps.
Combined, the proposals will see 97 per cent of all schools connected to fibre.Mr Joyce says the ability for New Zealanders to access faster and better quality broadband will improve productivity in the economy, increase New Zealand’s global competitiveness, and will have a real impact on the lives of New Zealanders."Not only will the Government’s investment in broadband infrastructure accelerate New Zealand into the 21st Century, but it will serve to reduce the growing digital divide between urban and rural New Zealand, and assist building capability in businesses and improve the educational opportunities within our communities.”The Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill sets out regulatory changes to enable the Government to implement the UFB initiative and the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI).“Under the UFB Initiative and the Rural Broadband Initiative, all network providers are able to compete through the tender processes to partner with the government to build new broadband infrastructure. The bill provides the legislative framework for the initiatives,” says Mr Joyce.“The bill ensures that the networks that will be built are open and can be accessed on fair and equitable terms by all network providers, and that there are provisions to enable the Commerce Commission to monitor and enforce open access requirements to these networks. The bill also introduces an information disclosure regime to ensure transparency around the operation of the networks.”The second purpose of the bill is to implement reform of the TSO framework. The TSO framework ensures the ongoing supply of basic residential telephone at a fixed price across New Zealand and the Telecommunications Relay Services for the Deaf and hearing impaired.“The Government has undertaken a significant review of the TSO, in consultation with the industry. This bill addresses the issues identified in that review,” says Mr Joyce.“The bill streamlines cost calculations and administrative processes. It also introduces a new funding mechanism to consolidate industry contributions toward telecommunications sector obligations – a new levy called the Telecommunications Development Levy.“The bill will ensure that the TSO operates fairly, transparently, and effectively – with reduced cost of compliance for the sector,” says Mr Joyce.The Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill will be considered by the Finance and Expenditure Committee which will report back to the House on or before 6 May 2011.Information on the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative is available at www.crownfibre.govt.nz and www.med.govt.nz/ultra-fast-broadband.