Opinion: Satellite service matures as rural broadband solution

Fibre will never be economic for parts of New Zealand - this is where satellite comes into play

I’ve recently visited the Baycity/Farmside operation, testing both the satellite service and the pinot noir at owner Tony Baird’s Waipara winery. I have to say both are excellent! For the record, I tested the satellite service before the pinot noir, so this report is completely accurate.

BayCity is a great example of a local start-up that has taken a technology opportunity and used it to make headway in a hitherto under-served niche. It has a dedicated and focussed team who are passionate about what it is doing.

It is big enough to do everything well, but small enough to treat its customers with respect. I couldn’t help being immensely impressed by both the people and what they have achieved.

With fibre hogging most of the headlines, it’s easy to forget that a majority of New Zealand’s geography will never be economic to reach with glass. This is where wireless, including satellite, comes into play. Despite the success of satellite-delivered services in the marketplace, a number of myths remain.

Myth 1: Satellite is inordinately expensive. Baycity’s entry level plan is a shade under $50 per month (including the cost of the satellite dish). While modestly dimensioned, this plan puts the service in the same pricing ball park as metropolitan services.

Myth 2: Satellite is low quality. The calls I have made and received over the Baycity service were crystal clear (yes, they are VoIP) and there was no noticeable delay. Clearly satellite services have come of age and, alongside other wireless services, will have an important role to play in delivering broadband-enabled services to the rural economy.

Copyright and convergence

One of the interesting and unexpected outcomes of the flurry of activity that has surrounded s92A of the Copyright Act is that it has forced two adjacent sectors to talk intimately with each other, and has caused them to start confronting the realities of their converged future.

Over the last few months I have spoken to a number of leaders in the music and movie industries and we have concluded that it is “nuts” that our two sectors have, to date, rarely talked to each other in any meaningful way.

Similar issues were traversed at the opening session of the Commerce Commission’s “Broadband at a Crossroads” conference, where the question of whether we needed a New Zealand version of the UK Broadband Stakeholders Group was raised. (The BSG is an informal association of media, telecommunications, IT and consumer device companies that works collaboratively on convergence issues).

Some of those that have criticised the TCF for its endeavours to build bridges with the content industry, would seem to have been blinkered by the ideology. From our perspective it makes more sense to sit down with our future business partners and start to develop a productive working relationship.

While the current discussions are focussed on copyright issues, new conversations are already starting that will see a wider and richer array of content made available digitally. That can only be good for us all.

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