Thursday, May 23, 2024

Rural residents front-of-mind in copper network investigation

The Commerce Commission said connectivity options for rural New Zealanders are front-of-mind as it begins a formal investigation that will help shape the future of the nation’s copper network.

Telecommunications Commissioner, Tristan Gilbertson says the approach paper released today for the Copper Services Investigation is the first step in the process – required under the Telecommunications Act – which is scheduled to be completed by 31 December 2025, and could see copper deregulated outside fibre areas.

Mr Gilbertson says the investigation comes at a time of unprecedented technological change in the telecommunications sector – including the arrival of satellite-based broadband, which the Commission’s Measuring Broadband New Zealand testing has shown to be a game-changer for rural New Zealand.

“This investigation coincides with a shift in the dynamics of competition in rural areas that we’ve never seen before,” he said.

“Satellite-based services such as Starlink are bringing urban levels of broadband performance to the most remote areas of New Zealand. Mobile operators and regional wireless internet service providers are also expanding the capacity and reach of their broadband services.”

Mr Gilbertson says the Commission’s monitoring shows that less than half of rural households outside fibre areas are served by copper – “Rural consumers are increasingly shifting off copper as demand for more robust connectivity and internet performance grows”.

“Our copper network has been the backbone of telecommunications services for generations and has served us well – as have the regulatory protections wrapped around it. This investigation is about making sure that regulation keeps pace with change and remains fit-for-purpose.”

The Copper Services Investigation is focused on determining whether competitive, affordable alternatives to copper exist – and, if so, whether removing or reshaping copper regulation is in the best interests of consumers.

The Commission is seeking submissions from stakeholders on the proposed approach by 5pm, Wednesday 22 May 2024. It will then invite cross-submissions by 5pm, Friday 7 June 2024. The Commission must complete the investigation by 31 December 2025 and determine a recommendation to the Minister.

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