Country still has broadband hangups

AUDREY MALONE
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2014

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For many in South Canterbury, dial-up internet is a distant memory. But that's not the case for rural residents.

The Government is trying to roll out the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) but Chorus says there should be no expectation of access.

Chorus has been in the news this week as one of its customers, Jason Winter, complained of slow internet speed at his Levels Valley home, just 15 minutes from Timaru.

Chorus and Vodafone won the contract from the Government to roll out fibre for ultra-fast broadband to towers, enabling faster rural connectivity.

Chorus industry and communications manager Gerard Linstrom said the fibre currently being rolled out would reach only 75 per cent of New Zealanders.

"It is not feasible for it to be rolled out everywhere, let alone commercially viable.

"If you live on a farm, and have a long driveway, it could potentially cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the fibre to the house," he said.

Linstrom said there was a mistaken belief that because people had a telephone they were therefore able to get broadband.

However, there were options for the other 25 per cent.

"Satellite and wireless are both available."

But they did come at increased costs, slower speed than ultrafast broadband and data plans were capped.

South Canterbury has other small companies providing a niche service.

One is run by Kevin Earl, who has installed eight transmitters, each of which can provide high-speed internet to a radius of more than 15 kilometres.

These companies operate in the Cave-Albury area, and also at Levels.

Timaru full-service telecommunications company Farmside acting head of marketing Scott Page said it was the largest provider of the RBI rollout in the country.

He said it was aware of the challenges facing the sector, but felt it was ahead of the game.

"We saw the need for connectivity 12-ish years ago, before there was government funding," he said.

Page said Farmside's targeted audience was essential to New Zealand's economy, and it was essential that audience had access to the internet.

"Internet service is not horses for courses.

"We aim to have ubiquitous [universal] coverage," Page said.

"There is the odd place that is behind a tree or the wrong side of a mountain that doesn't have access."

Page said that access was not the only issue blocking the effective use of the internet to increase profit.

"Learning how to use it properly is also essential."

INTERNET ACCESS PROBLEM STRIKES A CHORD

Since appearing in the Herald earlier this week Jason Winter has been inundated with options for internet access from his Levels home.

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"Every man and his horse seems to have called me to offer me options.

"It's good to know they are out there," he said.

Despite living next to an internet cabinet in Levels Valley, Winter's internet connection was very slow.

So he approached Chorus, owner of the cabinet, and his MP Jacqui Dean.

Chorus had suggested he and fellow residents pay $40,000 for a new cabinet if they wanted an improved service.

However, Farmside acting head of marketing Scott Page said a solution was available to Winter through the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI).

"A tower has been installed in the past week which enables Mr Winter to get a high-quality speed internet connection," Page said.

However, according to Chorus industry and communications manager Gerard Linstrom, upgrading the internet cabinet was still the best option for Winter.

"The upgraded cabinet would provide 30 to 40 megabits per second.

"Wireless will probably give him about 5 megabits per second," he said.

Linstrom said the other big difference was that the data packages available under wireless were generally capped.

With broadband there were unlimited data options available, he said.

Linstrom said it had a business to run and upgrading the internet cabinet for a limited number of people would not make good business sense.

"People's usage patterns have changed from when we first installed the cabinet.

"It was before YouTube, Facebook and TVNZ on Demand.

"More people have built out there and there is a growth in demand," he said.

Linstrom said that previously the company had a budget to upgrade old internet cabinets but because of the company's financial situation, the budget dried up.

Winter said he would look carefully at his options.

"I still think the cabinet might be the better option for me at the moment.

"I will see if the other residents want to put some money together to update the cabinet," he said.

- The Timaru Herald

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