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Broadband Fibre Plan Leaves Rural in Knots

4 November 2009
For immediate release

Broadband Fibre Plan Leaves Rural in Knots

Rural Women New Zealand questions the wisdom of a government plan to deliver ultra-fast broadband to schools and some rural households, while others languish on dial up or no internet access at all.

“We share some of the concerns raised in the Motu Economic and Public Policy Research survey released today about the gains that can be expected by providing faster internet access, particularly in rural areas.

“The priority should be on getting 100 percent broadband coverage to all rural households at city prices,” says executive officer Noeline Holt.

“Such an interim ‘bronze standard service’ could be linked to a plan to upgrade speeds over time.”

In line with the Motu survey, this would have the highest impact on productivity gains for farmers, rural businesses and traders, RWNZ believes.

This model has been used in the EU, which recommended in December 2008 that member countries adopt the goal of 100 percent coverage of affordable usable broadband by September 2010. The Irish Government is on target to deliver broadband to its 200,000 rural households, at speeds of 1Mbps for most remote locations.

“This is a classic example of a bronze standard that will ensure complete inclusion,” says Ms Holt.

Currently around 33 percent of rural households have broadband, while 31 percent are on dial up and 36 have no internet access.

“Dial up connections are notoriously slow and badly affected by electric fencing, often making them unusable.

“We heard this week of a farmer on dial up who spent 17 hours downloading three 5MB email attachments. Clearly any broadband access would have a huge impact on productivity when people are battling with such frustrations.”

While Rural Women New Zealand applauds the government’s focus on the education and health benefits of ultra-speed broadband, we do not believe these benefits will be fully realized until there is 100 percent broadband coverage, and a dramatic increase in rural uptake.

The last push by the Government to increase rural broadband coverage was through Project PROBE - another school-oriented initiative - which delivered broadband to cabinets serving around 56% of rural households.

Rural Women New Zealand is concerned that the new focus on ultra-fast broadband for schools and surrounding communities could replicate the disparities of PROBE.

“We worry that it will simply perpetuate the current broadband coverage picture, leaving a large number of rural cabinets – and customers - high and dry.

“The government can expect bitter dissatisfaction in rural communities if the Rural Broadband Initiative results in early dramatic improvements in data speeds to already-served areas, while tens of thousands of rural households remain outside affordable coverage.”


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