Telecom ponders hand-me-down broadband

The technology would be used to provide broadband to areas where the service is not currently available, says Telecom

Telecom is considering recycling the old broadband hardware it strips out of exchanges around the country this year to supply first-generation ADSL to regional areas.

Company spokeswoman Sarah Berry confirmed to Computerworld that the suggestion emerged during discussions in Telecom’s wholesale division.

“The strategy is [that] if we have ADSL and the technology is in good condition we would use it again in the network,” she says, adding that it is about “making the most out of what we’ve got”.

The technology would be used to provide broadband to areas where the service is not currently available, she says.

Telecom is upgrading exchanges around the country to a faster version of ADSL, which is used to deliver broadband internet access through existing telephone networks. The company will spend between $50 million and $60 million upgrading 120 exchanges this year, starting with exchanges in Pakuranga, Auckland, and Kandallah, Wellington.

The upgrade project would cover 50% of all Telecom connections when completed if it goes ahead. However, some are less than impressed with the idea. “You would wonder why you would put old gear in,” says Don Nicolson, Federated Farmers’ vice president and telecommunications spokesman.

“If it is no longer useful in a built-up area, putting it into a rural area, when technology is changing so quickly, looks like a retrograde step.”

Nicolson says it would be disappointing if rural New Zealand continues to get second best. “But we do understand the market dynamics.”

He adds that Federated Farmers always knew local loop unbundling would be of little benefit to rural New Zealand, but the organisation is waiting to see the effect of submissions to the Telecommunications Amendment Bill.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde says he can see the benefits from Telecom’s point of view. But the plan does a disservice to the sector that generates most of New Zealand’s wealth, and the government should step up. Budde says New Zealand’s rural areas are unique in the world and drive the local economy, yet are not receiving world-class technology.

“New Zealand could do better,” he says. “It makes economic sense from the government’s point of view to ensure that this part of the economy gets first-class technology.”

It’s a matter of national interest, he says. Budde says 8-10Mbit/s broadband is becoming common in Australia and even 2Mbit/s speeds are out of step with the rest of the world.

“New Zealand can do a quantum leap. Telecom has been under-investing for such a long time that you won’t catch up overnight, but it can be done,” he says.

Budde says that in the end, rural New Zealand will pay the bill for its broadband. The question is: how does New Zealand move forward and bridge the growing broadband gap?

“That’s a role for government — not necessarily to pay for, but to facilitate,” he says.

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