When North Canterbury farmer Chris Roberts connects his ISP business Amuri.net to FX Networks’ South Island fibre backbone this month, he will have solved one of the major problems that bedevil such rural providers: gaining access to backhaul.
Roberts is an electrician by training and had previously worked as a network operator for Christchurch power company Orion.
He and his brother began farming a few years back in North Canterbury where they couldn’t get any broadband.
“I did some research and chatted to a friend who was doing hotel hotspots,” Roberts says. “Basically, we put that on steroids.”
Roberts and his brother milk 800 cows and run 300 head of beef at their Amuri property.
When he decided to put in a wireless connection for the farm, other people in the area began making inquiries. Four years ago Amuri.net was born.
“We cover from inland Kaikoura to just north of the Waimakariri [river],” he says.
He also partners with another small ISP, Ultra, which supplies broadband to Banks Peninsula.
There are a lot of problems with the smaller wireless providers getting access to backhaul, Roberts says.
“We’ve been down that road to negotiate with Telecom but at the end of the day they don’t play ball. They offer only 10Mbit/s and it’s too expensive.
“Like in a lot of rural areas, there is broadband in the exchange but there are loading issues and those of distance from the exchange.”
Roberts says when it comes to broadband, rural people have been left behind for years.
“Farming and viticulture have a lot of information that needs to be processed, so broadband is a necessity for anyone with, say, a large dairying operation. It’s critical.”
Amuri has 14 wireless hill sites, all of which are powered by either wind or solar.
“That has allowed us to put in really good infrastructure for the future,” Roberts says. “We’ve made 100 percent reinvestment in the network over the past four years.”
He says there are some areas he wants to expand into but he is “keeping some cards close to my chest because the ISP market is extremely competitive”. Roberts was contacted a year ago by FX Networks with a backhaul offer. FXN has only recently completed laying its fibre across Cook Strait and through to Christchurch.