Canada provides model for NZ community broadband

British Columbia faces similar challenges to New Zealand in delivering broadband

New Zealand can learn from the Canadian experience in implementing “grass roots” broadband, building from the community upwards.

That’s the view of Ian Thompson of the 2020 Communications Trust who, with Riaka Hiakita from the Tuhoe Education Authority (who is also manager of the ISP Tuhoe.com), attended a summit on “strategic ICT use” in communities held in British Columbia in February.

Thompson was impressed with the printed materials, training and advocacy available in British Columbia aimed at stimulating awareness of the uses of broadband and building broadband capacity, he says. The Canadians, Thompson reports, were for their part impressed with some New Zealand initiatives such as the Computers in Homes scheme.

British Columbia faces similar challenges to New Zealand in delivering broadband and in some cases faces even more daunting barriers. The population of the province is 4.7 million, spread over four times the land area of New Zealand. Half the population lives in Vancouver, and 80% live within 100km of the US border, leaving a large scattering of small, remote communities.

Network BC, a government organisation, worked with incumbent telco Telus to set up 10Mbit/s points of presence (POPs) in 366 community centres. It then persuaded Telus to connect 119 previously unserved communities to broadband. This cost Telus C$110 million (NZ$136 million).

Network BC also assisted 73 communities to make a last mile broadband network, to connect customers to the POPs. This has been identified as a significant gap in broadband strategy.

“Alberta [took] a top down approach to deploy a broadband POP in every community centre, but there is not one community owned last-mile operator, leaving many fringe communities without adequate broadband access,” Thompson says.

The provincial Government of Alberta did not arrange any awareness or capacity building activities. In BC there is particular attention to connecting the native population (known as the First Nations) with broadband.

Network BC presuaded Telus to adopt a flat rate principle for ISP charging with prices fixed for three years in three bands according to the number of connections in a community — less than 200, 200 to 500 or more than 500. Network BC also ran 75 community workshops to develop technical capacity.

But effort also came from the communities. In 2004, the BC Community Connectivity Co-operative (BC3) was formed to promote the development, implementation and sustainable operation of community-based broadband networks. This includes consulting with under-served communities to identify opportunities to support community efforts to establish broadband networks, and nurturing community champions to lead these.

BC3 also offers education and support to these community champions and other supporters, provides information and resources and advocates to government, industy and the public.

It is the first body of its kind in Canada and possibly the world, Thompson, whose visit was funded by InternetNZ, says.

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