Onto RBI 2.0…

Well I’ve had a night to sleep on yesterday’s announcement and I’m still pretty excited, its a clever piece of policy work, by extending the TDL (Telecommunications Development Levy – successor to the much derided TSO) the Government has given itself an extra $150 Million to play with that is fiscally neutral (I think they’ll be hoping that the Telco’s paying the TDL won’t notice that they’re going to keep paying a wee bit longer.

Politically its very smart as it does 3 things, firstly it gazzumps Labour’s $9.6 million contestable fund for very similar rural initiatives, secondly it deals with genuine heartland concern about broadband and mobile coverage and finally it is actually quite ambitious for rural New Zealand.

To be really successful it needs a target and I think it needs to be an ambitious target – funding projects that will have the capability within 10 years to deliver 1 gigabit/second to rural New Zealand.

Thats not a pipe dream. it can be done today with 2 technologies fibre and point to point wireless and by 2024 5G should be gigabit capable as well. 

As a former rural New Zealander (I’m just currently an economic exile in #gigatownporirua) one thing that really pisses me off is hearing that old technology is good enough for country folk. Its up there with the now 30 year old refrain about farming being a sunset industry, I’m glad its such a long sunset as without the ‘white gold’ boom we would be in a far worse position.

Farming is developing into a very sophisticated data intensive business, it is the starting point for the worlds food based supply chain and consumers increasing demand for more detail about their food & where it comes from. But not only that, rural New Zealanders are entitled to all the good stuff that comes with ultra fast internet, tomorrow see’s the launch of Spark’s ‘Lightbox’ service and I’m sure plenty of rural Kiwi’s are up for a bit of ‘Global mode’ too.

The devil as they say is in the detail and it will be the same with yesterdays announcement, there are many questions to be asked and a lot of capacity to be rebuilt. In its first broadband schemes the Government favoured large monolithic structures run by contract, in fact it believed that contracts would work better than regulation.

Councils and small regional operators were sidelined by both the UFB and the RBI and massive waste and overbuild has occurred, the situation in Palmerston North is a prime example where pioneering work was done by James Watts and his team at inspire.net and he had an effective partnership going with the Palmerston North City Council, James was even running fibre to the farm 7 years ago.

Now the Government recognises that local is often best and will need to re-engage players who still have much to offer. This will require both sides to re-establish dormant relationships and a number of plans can be dusted off and updated.

Who will run the new scheme? is it best suited to MBIE or could it function out of CFH with an expanded mandate? Nearly all of the old team at MED who used to run these projects have moved on or retired.

I think it could well take several years to get back in shape for this challenge, the current RBI advisory structure needs to be revisited and updated to provide genuine governance and oversight.

We also need to make sure that it remains consistent with our market structure, that is that new access networks are structurally separated and open access and the the correct regulatory settings are applied.

I’ll leave with the insights I’ve just gained from the engineer behind the very successful Northpower fibre rollout. 

Our beyond UFB plan is to roll gigabit capable fibre out to all our electricity subscribers within 10 years, the GPON technology we use can reach out 30km and we can push it further if needed.

— Graham Dawson – Northpower

2 replies
  1. Jason
    Jason says:

    If RBI Wireless Coverage and Speed was comparable to start at > 20 Mbs and Unlimited Plans for the Same Price as Wired Connections ( ie Data didn’t have a ridiculous price differential over wired connections then there would be no issues .
    Some ISP’s ( Inspire Net) have a solution that can scale locally/ regionally and offer fantastic Data and Phone where Cellular RBI Just wont be touched by telcos with their existing 10 – 20 old equipment.
    However where Cellular Coverage exists just not at the speed that simply enabling/forcing Cellular Providers to just do it would.
    There have been Monumental Speed Gains for Wireless Technology both last mile and Back haul as well as massive Government Spend to increase Vodafone and Sparks Cellular Coverage.. at very little cost benefit to those customers who deserve far treatment .
    In England and USA some Cellular Service Providers massive speed and Data .. NZ has Paid for 4G and massive cellular improvements .. unleash it at a usable instantly connectable price point .

    Come on Vodafone / Spark .. what are you waiting for ?

  2. Pierre Hay
    Pierre Hay says:

    If telecom/Vodafone do what they did for the first RBI rollout, and win this one too. The RBI will be focused on the medium to small townships, with a few lucky rural households near these towers that get an RBI coverage. It should be noted that the RBI one rollout was focused on improving telecom/Vodafone’s cell coverage and not a true Wireless Broadband solution. From what I’ve seen even the rollout has flaws in it, I’ve seen it overloaded, even seen dropout in bad weather situations. While I’ve seen true Wireless Broadband Providers in the same general coverage areas maintain good quality services including VoIP services. Something government need to make sure is covered this time around, ideal it should be overseen by people that know the technology and understanding of the rural and coastal environments that RBI is meant to provide services to.


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