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Country areas need fast broadband

As economies all over the world transition from one based on spending, to one based on savings, we all must look to grow the productivity and profitability of our export sectors. Most OECD governments have identified that good reliable broadband is essential to future economic growth.

In New Zealand a big part of our exports come from the rural sector which includes dairy, sheep and beef, but also tourism. This means we need people to live in rural areas and not feel like they are digitally divided or disadvantaged. One of the big issues for rural people is broadband – many of them only have access to dial up. Try booking a ticket to a rugby game on dial up. In my opinion this is not an application specific or industry specific issue, it’s a wider public issue that’s as relevant as the telephone. If we don’t provide good broadband people will migrate to urban areas.

The NZ Government has initiated a fantastic strategy named the Rural Broadband Initiative (‘RBI’). The goal is to bring broadband to all of rural NZ and this included a tender process that was won by a joint bid from Telecom and Vodafone. There’s a huge amount of passion among Kiwis to get this sorted and after the bid was won Federated Farmers hosted a forum which included finalists in the bid process and key stakeholders. I attended this and noted the frustration in the room when it became apparent that neither Vodafone or Telecom were present. It would have been more valuable if they had been there.

I am no broadband expert, but from what I heard at the forum, it’s apparent that there are some issues that need to be addressed:

  • We must be aiming for the best possible speeds for rural areas – speeds of 1-5Mbps and 3G are not good enough. This is certainly not a long term solution.
  • Six years to roll this out is far too long, especially when other bidders stated they could do it in two years.
  • The RBI must actually connect people to the internet. Just putting in fibre down the road is not the solution, we must connect it to the homes, offices and sheds. I respect that RBI must include fibre and wireless.
  • Collaboration is the key. There are a lot of people who care deeply about this issue and want to help. They need to be informed and have input into the process Vodafone and Telecom follow.

Getting this right is hugely important to New Zealand’s economic growth.

If you want to follow the RBI debate a little closer, you might like to start with this blog post from TUANZ boss Paul Brislen.

 

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4 comments

Bruce Hoult
17 March 2011 #

“We must be aiming for the best possible speeds for rural areas – speeds of 1-5Mbps and 3G are not good enough.”

I disagree. Something around 2 – 5 Mbps for the “last mile” is just fine if you can actually GET that speed with reasonable certainty. It’s enough for several people in the household to be simultaneously watching youtube or doing video calls on skype.

I’ll note that youtube throttles (standard def) video streams to about 135 KB/sec (1.1 Mbps) anyway, after an initial burst to fill the buffer. 720p uses more like 2 Mbps and that’s really not going to increase much more, ever. OK, 1080p one day, but youtube currently doesn’t support that.

I don’t know of any farming business use for the internet that is more demanding than these “entertainment” uses. It’s not being able to use youtube or view photos on facebook at reasonable speeds and the like that makes country people feel left out, not things that prevent or slow economic activity.

In my experience of cable modem at home in the city and using relatives’ DSL on farms the problems are:

- sub Mbps *upload* speeds. 128k up is just ridiculous. 640k isn’t great either. A decent 3G signal with 2 or 3 Mbps up is fine and better than DSL1.

- ISPs that don’t have enough capacity to actually deliver 2 – 5 Mbps to customers at peak usage times.

Sure, if you can provide 10 or 20 or 100 Mbps cheaply then do it, but don’t do it if it’s significantly more expensive than providing a nice reliable and consistent 2 – 5 Mbps.

Look at what’s cost-effective, don’t set an arbitrary target just because it sounds good.

The last thing we need is a fast but expensive gold plated system that people can’t afford to actually use.

Jacinta
18 March 2011 #

We love to holiday in NZ but our only gripe while we are touring is the lack of internet access (or the cost if it does exist) of internet access. We would love to post photos of our travels or write short blog posts while we are on the road but rural NZ makes this very difficult which is such a shame.

Hamish Edwards
21 March 2011 #

Bruce, thanks for your comments, it appears you know your stuff and you point is well taken. As a minimum we need to get broadband into the rural areas of NZ. But we have an opportunity to provide speeds will provide greater longevity of the infrastructure. The only certain is that the demand consumption and demand for better speed will increase. Some of those present at the forum indicated they could provide speeds in excess of 5Mbps which is why I feel we need to ask the questions why the winning bid is not looking to do the same. The other thing is that speed is not just about download, its upload too. I just check my own speed at Speedtest.net and am only getting 0.76Mbps up, while I get about 10mbps down, and I live in a semi rural area. Upload is going to be more important as people keep more and more stuff in the cloud. If city businesses are able to 100% cloud then so should rural businesses.

Hamish Edwards
21 March 2011 #

Jancinta, you comment is well made. Rural broadband goes well beyond farm businesses, and it includes tourism. Rural broadband goes even wider to include everyday people that need to use the internet to do normal everyday things, like pay the bills, book tickets to the rugby or check their NCEA results.

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