HOME Technology 2002
Broadband coming to heartland
If our pioneering forefathers had waited to prove a business case before building the national road and rail infrastructure New Zealand would be a remote third world backwater today.

Until recently it was left entirely to ‘market forces’ to sort out how new generation internet and high speed data services would be supplied to the nation. While carriers scrapped among themselves over interconnection rights and wholesale pricing, outlying areas were virtually overlooked.

After a decade of hands off policies it has taken innovation by power companies and independent carriers, organised efforts by communities and a visionary effort by communications minister Paul Swain to even get close to delivering high-speed communications to rural and regional New Zealand.

Early in his reign Mr Swain emphasised the importance of broadband access for all New Zealanders including ‘farmers down lonely roads’ by the unlikely deadline of the end of 2003. He wants to see government departments in small towns and rural areas pool their bandwidth requirements to attract the best deal for everyone.

He has put TVNZ-owned Broadcast Communications (BCL) in the front line, insisting it provide access to its $100 million nationwide digital wireless network for all carriers. BCL has the ability to extended its network with ‘last mile’ capability ( 256kbit/sec for inbound traffic and 128kbit/sec outbound ) to the majority of the country where copper is incompetent and satellite unsatisfactory. It just needs a good business case to do so.

Telecom says it’ll only extend its high-speed copper-based Jetstream digital subscriber line (DSL) service ‘where it is commercially viable’ to upgrade an exchange. Jetstream currently covers about 83 per cent of the country.

BCL, which provides transmission capabilities for every major radio and TV channel into New Zealand homes, is now partnering with Telecom and other carriers to provide voice and data services to 14 outlying regions as part of the government’s $20 million Project Probe. Customers could create wireless wide area networks within school, a farm, home or business from a single connection.

Project Probe, designed to bring broadband to the provinces, initially focuses on 2700 schools and while BCL is confident it has the technology and the expertise to meet those requirements it has its eye on the bigger picture.

It wants to provide voice and data to 200,000 customers in rural New Zealand who are presently struggling with sub-standard communications capabilities. That is also the governments underlying objective.

Walker Wireless is also keen to get a slice of this business. In conjunction with Vodafone it has been testing technology to provide speeds up to 3Mbit/sec over a range of 30km from base stations. They’ve already won the first contract to supply rural schools in Southland. Walker Wireless believes it could cover the country for an investment of about $80 million.

Meanwhile the entrepreneurial spirit remains alive in many remote parts of the country where regional councils and community trusts have gained support to attract broadband suppliers. For example high-speed access is now available in 13 Otago towns – including every secondary school. Northland and Wairarapa have also established their own broadband initiatives and electricity suppliers such as Counties power are promising 25,000 residents and businesses on the outskirts of Auckland will soon have independent broadband access.

It’s time the big carriers stopped whimpering about waning profits and realised providing high-speed infrastructure to service our main centres, suburbs, towns and provinces is essential not only for their own survival but for New Zealand’s competitiveness, prosperity and wellbeing.

Building today is the only way to ensure everyone gets access to new and evolving services, which will continue to reshape e-commerce, education, tourism, farming, horticulture, health, news, information, entertainment and central and local government.

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