The six regional broadband pilots and the government’s budget announcement are vitally important initiatives, but in some parts of rural New Zealand, the private sector is providing services.
Invercargill-based ISP SouthNet established Wi-Fi (802.11b) services in Invercargill last year, allowing businesses with line-of-sight connections to its wireless broadcast point atop a city hotel to use a service it says is competitive with Telecom’s JetStream.
SouthNet has recently extended its Wi-Fi presence to rural Southland, managing director Marc Cohen says.
“In the last week of June we established Wi-Fi infrastructure in the Queenstown area and successfully tested Wi-Fi service from Queenstown to Coronet Peak and broadcast to several trial locations.”
Sales and marketing manager Tim Brown says there has been strong interest in the service in Queenstown, “and we’re explaining the technology then referring people to their systems integrator.”
With the service not officially launched yet, there have been no orders so far, “but there’s significant interest”.
Cohen says SouthNet would consider bidding or being part of a partnership bidding for the budget broadband contract.
“We would certainly have a look at participating if there is a suitable role for a regional ISP such as SouthNet in the plan.”
Last year SouthNet defended itself from criticism that by going out and privately providing broadband to individual customers, it was jeopardising the chances of community-wide rollouts. A report, titled “Blazing a trail to the IT highway”, prepared by Industry New Zealand for the Otago-Southland Broadband Communications Committee, noted that potential customers without line-of-sight to SouthNet points of presence wouldn’t be able to receive the service and that a second network, coming in after SouthNet, would “have the more expensive-to-serve subscribers as a starting base, resulting in a higher average cost, which it must pass on to subscribers”.
Cohen responded by pointing out that “ubiquitous whole-of-community rural broadband networks” envisaged by the report would only be possible with “massive government subsidies” and that there were more urgent things, such as health, education and bailing out Air New Zealand, that needed addressing.
He says the government’s budget announcement has proved him right on the issue of subsidies, though he now describes the budget announcement as “an exciting, ambitious initiative”.
In his response to “Blazing a Trail” last year, Cohen noted “because we believed it improbable that the government would launch a nationwide ‘ubiquitous broadband’ programme, SouthNet decided not to wait for government initiatives before launching its Wi-Fi service”.
Fonterra is also planning a nationwide rural network, most likely based on wireless technology, but the initial specified minimum speed, 64kbit/s, doesn’t qualify as broadband.