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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17 March 2011 #