Fonterra's broadband roadshow hits a speed bump

The Fonterra broadband roadshow has hit a speed bump with at least one attendee complaining that the technology on show is too expensive at best or at worst not really broadband.

The Fonterra broadband roadshow has hit a speed bump with at least one attendee complaining that the technology on show is too expensive at best or at worst not really broadband.

Fonterra, the dairy giant, has teamed up with Telecom and BCL and is currently travelling the country telling rural New Zealanders about its broadband offering.

However, one posting to the nz.comp newsgroup suggests some are less than impressed with the offerings and Federated Farmers has also voiced concerns. Fonterra, meanwhile, has defended its presentation and the technology used.

The newsgroup posting complained that the demo was run off a hard drive, rather than online.

"Then they were selling it on the point that once you have broadband you can download movies and music from the internet (with a 500MB cap). The presenter even said 'I have JetStream 500 at home and use it all the time and have never been over 500MB. It is more than enough for anyone.' Now, do us farmers really look 'that' stupid?"

Fonterra's plan involves a three-pronged approach - Telecom's JetStream for those within a certain distance of the exchange - BCL's AirSpan wireless product for those beyond that point and a satellite offering for those truly remote users.

Set-up costs for the AirSpan product run to $1500 and the satellite service is closer to $4500. Monthly costs should be around $80 for 500MB of traffic, says Fonterra.

Federated Farmers' director of rural affairs for Northland Ian Walker says in many respects he is disappointed Fonterra chose to work outside the government's framework for broadband development, Project PROBE.

"They're a large corporation and they feel most comfortable when affiliated with other large corporates and we're not entirely sure that's a good thing."

Walker, who has been working on Northland's Project PROBE initiative, believes 512Kbit/s is too slow and would rather see a 2Mbit/s minimum for schools and hospitals in the region, let alone 128Kbit/s (the proposed minimum speed).

"The biggest change that will bring will be a single toll calling area for all of Northland. Currently there are four areas and just about any call you make is a toll call."

That alone, he says, will provide a huge cost saving for farmers, far more so than being on a giant virtual private network (VPN) with other farmers.

"There's not much call from dairy farmers to be able to VPN with other dairy farmers."

Fonterra's proposal to farmers includes unlimited traffic on this VPN as well as to Fonterra's online presence, Fencepost, and a 500MB traffic cap on external traffic. Fencepost will also provide an IP telephony service between users of the service.

Kris Nygren, CIO of Fencepost and Fonterra's lead man on the broadband rollout, says the 128Kbit/s connection speed is a minimum, not a maximum.

"The proposed performance is likely to vary somewhat between the access services, but the minimum access performance is 128Kbit/s at maximum expected contention, reaching as high as 2Mbit/s for off-peak usage".

Nygren also answers criticism of the demonstrator's display of broadband capabilities - one visitor to the roadshow complained that the demonstration of speed was nothing more than an offline media player showing a film clip off the laptop's hard drive.

"The whole presentation is offline, since we are touring the countryside and have not always been able to guarantee a high speed connection at the venue. At venues where we are able to get a high speed connection, we invite the attendees to 'experience it first hand' after the presentation."

Nygren says feedback from the sessions held so far indicates around 75% of attendees indicating they were likely to sign up for such a service.

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