Ihug: we'll close the digital divide

Ihug has put up its hand to close the rural 'digital divide', which emerged from last week's e-commerce summit as a key issue for the government.

Ihug has put up its hand to close the rural "digital divide", which emerged from last week's e-commerce summit as a key issue for the government.

Both Communications minister Paul Swain and the Prime Minister indicated last week that when the government makes an announcement on the findings of the telecommunications inquiry next month, it will not only cover regulation, but a view on universal internet access.

The government believes New Zealand's primary industries will benefit by embracing the internet, but many farmers struggle to achieve good data performance over rural phone networks, and their prospects of getting high-speed services such as JetStream or cable are bleak.

Summit chair Sir Gil Simpson said one of the things that need to be "quantified, in dialogue with the community, is this aspect of Internet access. We've got to decide how much of the community is going to have internet access.

"We need to know that – because as soon as you go over about 92% there's going to be an incremental price in New Zealand that will be extraordinarily high. We have to front up to that, and say maybe this part of New Zealand doesn't have access – or it might have it via digital radio or something."

But Ihug director Tim Wood says the direct satellite version of Ihug's high-speed service Ultra, which requires a phone line only as a return path, is already providing an answer.

"At present, many areas are poorly serviced by Telecom New Zealand, because of the high cost of building out services to these communities," he says.

"This is an issue the government must address, to ensure all New Zealanders gain access to the new wave of broadband services arriving daily. In the meantime, Ihug has already built a nationwide wireless bridge to close the gap on the digital divide."

The uptake of Ultra has taken off this year, with much of the new business coming from the regions. Demand was such that there was a backlog of installations, which Wood says has since been cleared.

Meanwhile, Ihug has also announced it is to wholesale Ultra to around 100 small Australian ISPs to whom it wholesales international bandwidth. The service will be targeted at rural and outback areas and Ihug says it will let the small ISPs compete with the large Australian telco players.

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