Minister for Communications Amy Adams must start an independent technical audit of the delivery outcomes on the Government’s $300m rural broadband scheme after the Minister sacked the ministry responsible for its management.
That’s the damning verdict of the Labour Party, when launching a scathing attack on Government plans to take the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) off the nationwide fibre rollout.
Following the decision, Adams will now transfer responsibility for the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) to Crown Fibre Holdings, a move which has caused angst amongst the opposition party.
“Amy Adams is desperately trying to contain the growing fallout from her government’s mismanagement of rural broadband,” says Clare Curran, ICT spokesperson, Labour Party.
“She has sacked MBIE from the job and handed control of the next tranche of government funding to Crown Fibre Holdings.
“The sacking comes smack in the middle of a tender process for new funding for UFB and after all councils had pitched to MBIE for new money for rural broadband.”
According to Curran, this explains why MBIE went into shutdown mode last week and refused to meet with mayors anxious about their chances to secure funding to improve very low connectivity in their regions.
“It also occurs as submissions are closing for a major review of the Telecommunications Act turning the Government’s broadband strategy on its head,” Curran adds.
“Amy Adams forced urgent legislation through Parliament in May to levy telcos to fund the next stage of rural broadband. She’s put that programme on hold and handed the management of it to a secretive Crown Agency which was set up to manage contracts, not to ensure equitable internet access and speeds for rural New Zealand.”
At present, Curran believes Adams is trying to “distance herself from accountability” for rural broadband because mounting regional anger at low internet speeds and poor access is doing damage to the Government’s reputation in its heartland.
“This announcement is effectively an acknowledgement that rural broadband has failed,” Curran adds.
“The big problem is how long rural households and businesses have to wait to get better internet.”