The presence of good communications infrastructure is only the first part of the problem of revitalising the rural regions, says Anthony Stening of Venture Taranaki.
A key question is what the people of the region are going to do with the capacity once it’s there, Stening says.
The infrastructure matter is well in hand, with discussions already commenced with “a few telcos” and, he adds, through the natural progress of technology. A year ago, broadband communications was “a desperate need” for a lot of rural people; now some of that need is being satisfied. Telecom, for example, has developed and deployed new “extension technology” for DSL, that allows lines to be run up to 7km from the nearest exchange.
Stening says the extra capacity creates opportunities for online commercial collaboration among farmers or between farmers and other companies in the agricultural sector, educational and recreational opportunities. “All these must be thought out.”
When information can be provided and exchanged at high speed, this not only benefits the farmer’s picture of his own likely income and expenditure; it will inform the ultimate customer too. Milk and meat, previously commodity items, will carry information with them as part of the saleable item. “The customer will know where the product has come from and what processes it’s been through.” This will add to its value, Stening says.
He sees it as quite feasible for regions known for high-quality agricultural produce to become known as wine regions are, with digital information helping to ensure the integrity of the region’s “appellation”.
A lot of what might be done with increased telecommunications capacity cannot practically be foreseen, because the ideas will come from the people, Stening says. He cites peer-to-peer networking as an area of promise. An individual’s idea launched Napster, and there could well be a similar exchange service waiting to happen with more direct relevance to rural industries and lifestyle.
Venture Taranaki is currently assembling a strategic study, which it aims to have finished by March.
He sees the Fonterra/Fencepost plans to offer a telecomms service (see Fencepost net excites interest) as a significant addition not only potentially to the infrastructure, but to the positive “noise” being made about the whole potential of rural broadband. “It’s interesting and encouraging to see the way that’s been picked up by the rural community.”