Budget 2015: UFB and RBI

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spoken in the House 26th May 2015. Watch here or read below.

STUART SMITH: It is a great pleasure to put a contribution towards this Budget debate, and might I say before I start that last week was a lot of fun. It was my first Budget and my first time in extended urgency, and to have all the people lined up on our benches on Saturday night—it was really great to be a part of that and it was a great moment. I look forward to many more.

I want to focus tonight on ultra-fast broadband and the roll-out of the Rural Broadband Initiative. To my colleague the Hon Amy Adams, I say that this is a fantastic initiative. I think that the importance of it to rural New Zealand and to New Zealand as a whole has gone past many people, and I would like to just make sure that we dwell on it.

Hon Amy Adams: Especially those in New Lynn who say we shouldn’t care about the regions.

STUART SMITH: That is right. This is $360 million of funding targeted to deal with ultra-fast broadband, rural broadband, and mobile black spots. If we take those one at a time—where I live in Blenheim, I have just recently seen a piece that appeared in the New Zealand Herald and in the local Marlborough Express about a deputy principal at Marlborough Boys’ College who shifted down from Auckland. He realised that reaching his Kiwi dream of having a good house in a good place to live in Auckland was going to be very difficult for him.

He looked around the country and decided to settle in Blenheim. So he and his wife moved down there. They had no connections to Blenheim. They have now ended up owning a much higher-quality house than they would have been able to buy in Auckland at a much lower price with a smaller mortgage. They have a very short drive to work and a great place to live.

But, of course, one of the things that those people will be looking for is to enjoy the connectivity that they can enjoy in a major metropolitan area. Fortunately, Blenheim is one of those towns that is now fully fibred and so they are able to enjoy that, and that is one of the things that people look to when they make a decision about where they are going to live.

This is a major opportunity for rural New Zealand, provincial New Zealand. People are struggling in Auckland trying to buy houses, and we are trying to deal with that, but in the meantime there is a wonderful opportunity for regional New Zealand. All you have to do is put your hand up and tell a good story.

Moving on to rural broadband, farms and rural businesses today are modern businesses that absolutely rely on good connectivity. It is not just internet banking, although that is a very important part of it, but farmers have had to deal with satellite internet connections in quite isolated areas, in the most part. Unfortunately, with the security systems that banking requires on the internet and the way that satellites work, with bursts of information going up and down, in most cases it simply will not work on a banking system.

So that does not work for them. That is not the answer. They are working on those satellite systems but they are very expensive.

The rural broadband initiative offers a really good way for solutions to be found locally, and I had the pleasure on Monday night of attending two meetings in my electorate around putting a bid together for a Marlborough solution alongside the contestable fund for the rural broadband initiative. This is really a great example of a community getting together and working together for a local initiative to solve a local problem. We can do it in a very cost-effective way.

I can give you an example. In the southern part of the electorate the Amuri Basin had the same problem and a local guy got sick of trying to deal with it through the normal channels, so he got off his backside and started Amuri.net. This provides high-speed broadband via wireless, right around the Amuri Basin, and they have extended it out to much greater areas than that. That is a local solution for a local problem, but a very modern solution with high-speed internet.

That technology is moving on as we speak. I heard yesterday from a local person in Marlborough that they are putting together a package for a 14-home subdivision where they can provide 1.2 gigabits via wireless. I hope in the near future to hold an event here in the Beehive to demonstrate that technology, which is a major step forward.

So fibre is the ultimate, but it is not suitable everywhere, but there are other solutions. So it is with great pleasure that I commend what is a very commendable Budget to the House.