We’ve become used to good news

Sometimes reality can bite, and that looks to be the case with the latest TrueNet report on rural broadband, which has actually seen real world performance of rural broadband connections decline.

This is surprising because a review of the RBI spin machine leads you to believe that its all sorted, the problem is that it isn’t and it won’t be sorted for quite a while.

The reason is simple NZ is a really awkward shape from an engineering perspective and farmers choose to live in strange and remote places. Getting adequate services to them is hard and the business models are ugly if you take the traditional approach (especially if you want a telco style return on capital in 5 years).

The other problem is that many urban technologies aren’t a good fit beyond relatively densely settled horticultural districts or compact Waikato style dairy farms. DSL performance degrades over distance and even the fasters xDSL’s run out of puff about 1km or so from the cabinet.

And its not really very economic to deploy 1 cabinet per subscriber and even then a lot of farms have long driveways. Farmers basically have 2 needs, reliable broadband to connect increasingly sophisticated farming operations to the world and ubiquitous mobile coverage, mainly voice but with a bit of data thrown in.

The TrueNet survey confirms that despite the hype, things aren’t getting better for most rural users, in fact they can look forward to them getting worse, with ageing copper infrastructure, a cash-strapped Chorus and no ongoing TSO beyond the end of the RBI.

More and better data would be great, TrueNet want more rural probes and their are also many rural subscribers either on the Farmside satellite network or using local wireless operators like inspire.net or AmuriNet (I was a happy user of The Pacific.net when I was back living in rural Marlborough) who don’t really show up in these results.

4G fixed wireless will help enormously, but it will have to be competitively priced with realistic data caps, but ultimately I still believe the answer has to be fibre to the farm.

It can (& has been) done, but it requires out of the box thinking, an acceptance of a degree of self reliance along with a community based funding, build and ownership model – a bit like Northpower are proposing now that they have some time on their hands.

4 replies
  1. David
    David says:

    There is a lot to be said for a more "distributed" model for building rural internet access. The technology is available off the shelf for low cost networks that can service large areas of difficult terrain. As mentioned, many small scale commercial providers are doing it all over the country. Google rural broadband in NZ ad see what turns up!

    Rural residents are often more than happy to pitch in and help with labour and land access, what isn’t always available rurally is the technical skill and support needed to design, develop and support a community rural network. Maybe some thought about how rural communities can be enabled to develop infrastructure to provide broadband to their areas would give more bang for the buck than the current model? For example, access to technical support hubs, access to a basic design concept, access to trade pricing for hardware. It’s not difficult, and there are many side benefits.

  2. John Butt
    John Butt says:

    I would love to do this, but that comes at a cost, routers. I would be pleased to install probes (routers) where the said wireless ISP is prepared to fund them. One or two have contacted me to see if I would pay, but I have not yet had one prepared to back their performance with funds.

  3. Chris O'Connell
    Chris O'Connell says:

    It would be great to put some dimensions on real rural broadband as opposed to the official view. Its interesting that nearly every town in rural NZ has a wireless ISP who survives by being able to do what the big guys can’t or won’t do.

    Personally I’d like to see an environment that lets these guys operate freely without getting caught up in the money wars that define the big end of town.

    If you can show that what the get is competitive I can’t see how that could be a bad thing.


  4. John Butt, TrueNet CEO
    John Butt, TrueNet CEO says:

    I endorse your comments on volunteers, I would indeed like some more from Farmside and Inspire volunteers to enable more comparisons. However I also need more from Telecom – for some reason we do not have enough, has the rural community moved on?


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