After Fives after match report

Enable put on a great After Five session last night in Christchurch.

As you know, Enable is building the UFB in Christchurch but what I didn’t know is it’s also responsible for another area around the main city – in effect the satellite towns that feed Christchurch.

The project is going well. I went out on a site visit and saw a crew drilling along a 30m driveway to reach the property at the back. Even though the other two residents hadn’t signed up for UFB at this point, the team were laying in the spurs ready to hook them up should the need arise and, given the rest of the street’s willingness to swap to fibre (there were four connections being put in on that street alone) it’s surely only a matter of time before they put in the call.

What interested me most about the deployment is the uptake rate – Enable is running at over double the national average at 6% uptake.

That may seem like peanuts but don’t forget the main residential build doesn’t start for another couple of years yet so to see such good numbers come in when the country as a whole is barely hitting 3% means it’s worth taking a second look at Enable’s model.

Enable is co-marketing the fibre deployment alongside its Retail Service Providers (RSPs) and even without the two big names in the fixed line broadband world – Telecom and Vodafone – it’s still signing up a tremendous number of new connections each month.

In addition, word of mouth is strong and that’s in no small part because of the excellent clean-up job the crews do when laying the fibre. Instead of the nightmare of trenches, refurbishments, multiple holes in walls, delays and the like, the teams make sure they clean up after themselves, that reinstatements of driveways and footpaths are of a top-notch nature and that they are constantly communicating with both residents and RSP partners. It’s clearly paying dividends.

Enable has all but completed deployment in some of the smaller dormitory townships outside Christchurch proper, which means those people who do live outside the city bounds will find they can work remotely via fibre instead of driving in and out of the city every day. Enable CEO Steve Fuller says that’s important to his team as the company is mostly owned by the council which also needs to consider usage of the roads. If only other councils were so engaged in the UFB’s potential.

We didn’t agree entirely on the government’s review of the telco act but I can see where Enable is coming from with its views on investor certainty and I hope they can see what we’re talking about when I say I don’t want the Commerce Commission sidelined as regulator.

What must be a concern for both LFCs and customers is that the move to allow Chorus to pocket price its copper lines in areas where it doesn’t have the UFB contract is unfair and unacceptable. Quite why MBIE included the concept in its discussion document is beyond me but the idea that Chorus will be allowed to keep copper prices high unless it faces competition is bizarre at best and anti-competitive at worst. I’d hate to see Enable and the other LFCs go to the wall because Chorus can lower its copper prices and block migration to the UFB (to follow the government’s own logic), especially given the stark differences in deployment results.

Thanks again to Enable for a great day and a great After Five.

Next up for the After Five sequence we have a change of pace. ASB’s chief economist Nick Tuffley will be talking about the state of the economy and ICT’s role in it and ASB is hosting it at its new building in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.

After that we have Network 4 Learning talking about its role in education and what N4L hopes to achieve in the coming years once all the schools in the country have access to high-speed broadband.

Times and dates and places will be posted on the website on Monday.


NB - the newsletter version of this post differs somewhat owing to my poor handwriting skills.