The National Party has promised to expand the ultrafast broadband network to cover 90 per cent of homes within 10 years if elected, bringing fibre broadband to about another 50,000 households.
The current UFB target is to cover 87 per cent of homes by 2022, after two previously expansions from the original goal – which was achieved – of providing 75 per cent coverage by this year.
A spokesman said one goal would be to make UFB available in areas around Auckland’s urban fringe that had missed out so far, particularly in the north of the city.
Party leader Judith Collins also committed to increase the performance target of the rural broadband initiative (RBI).
Its new goal would be to ensure almost all of the remaining 10 per cent of homes could get uncapped 100 megabit per second broadband using copper or wireless technologies by 2030.
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It estimated the cost of those investments at $1 billion.
A spokesman said a statement that it would ensure 100Mbps uncapped internet speeds for everyone using “ultra-fast broadband” was intended to refer to the RBI.
Labour communications spokesman Kris Faafoi said National’s policy was “very expensive” and it was not clear how the party could afford to pay for it.
“Labour has already announced our Investment Attraction Strategy, designed to encourage targeted high-value international investment, through the proven New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Innovative Partnerships programmes,” he said in a statement.
Craig Young, chief executive of the Technology Users Association, previously known as the Telecommunications Users Association, gave National’s technology plan “7 out of 10”.
Its new 90 per cent UFB coverage goal would take fibre to more small settlements and offering 100Mbps uncapped plans to all RBI customers would be a “significant improvement” for them, he said.
“Rolling out fibre a bit further isn’t a bad commitment to make.
“The other side of that is it frees up capacity on other networks.”
An uncapped 100Mbps RBI target would be achievable “if you invested enough”, he said.
Another positive was its plan to offer 1000 tertiary scholarships annually to students from low decile schools to undertake science, technology, engineering and maths degrees, he said.
National would also restore funding to ICT graduate schools that were put in place by former economic development minister Steven Joyce but axed under Labour.
It would set up three, $200m venture capital funds that would see the Government invest alongside private-sector investors to provide capital and expansion funding to tech start-ups.
National’s spokesman said those funds would be managed by NZ Growth Capital Partners, previously known as NZVIF, which was set up by Labour in 2002 with a seemingly similar original brief.
”The key change we are making is a requirement to work with professional fund managers with proven expertise from overseas,” he said.
Young believed the significance of a commitment by National to appoint a “minister of technology” would come down to the detail.
Both Labour and National used to appoint a minister who had the title of being “minister of communications and information technology”, but that title has been abbreviated to communications minister for recent appointments.
In order for it not to be case of simply renaming an existing position, the technology portfolio would need to be the primary portfolio of the new appointee and they would need to be in Cabinet, he said.
“It is more around whether that person has high enough ranking in Cabinet to show the value of it.”
John-Daniel Trask, chief executive of Wellington software firm Raygun, which won the innovation award at the High-Tech Awards this year, said he was quite excited by the policy.
“It is fundamentally great to see leadership on some tech issues,” he said.
“It is important we realise technology, and specifically software, can play to our strengths and overcome our weaknesses such as our distance to markets.”
A technology minister would be a positive step, he said.
“It has been a while and people may have forgotten we failed to appoint a national ‘CTO’ and that was I think a set-back for the industry.
“Anything that strengthens the voice of the technology sector within government is a positive,” he said.
Paul Matthews, chief executive of industry body IT Professionals NZ, said the fact National “actually have a policy for the tech sector is great”.
That put them one better than most of the main parties, with the exception of the Greens, he said.
”The lack of policy in this space from all and sundry has been a feature this election.”
It was a “fair question” why parties should have policy for the sector, Matthews said.
“A lack of policy shows, rightly or wrongly, a lack of interest or understanding of the needs of our industry, and the huge opportunity for digital tech to lead New Zealand’s post-Covid economic recovery,” he said.