Surprise — farmers and industry in Otago and Southland want greater broadband and faster internet access.
That’s one of the preliminary conclusions of the report of the Otago-Southland Broadband Communications Committee, which has just finished compiling data from Industry New Zealand-funded surveys of broadband users in the south.
Of 1000 southern farmers surveyed, 340 responded and project co-ordinator George Benwell says more than half were concerned about slow download and connection speeds, timeouts and receiving unreadable email attachments.
Federated Farmers national vice president and telecommunications spokesman Tom Lambie says the results only confirm what has been known since the internet first became available in rural areas. “The issue is the overloading of country exchanges – they’re designed for voice and can’t handle the additional burden of internet access.”
On top of that, there’s the problem of interference from electric fences, Lambie says. “There’s a property at Mossburn, Southland, where there was interference from five or six different fences and they only had one telephone line. “Modem speeds were 7Kbit/s until the interference was eliminated and they went up to 28Kbit/s.”
Electric fences can be adjusted to stop interference, but the greater problem of inadequate broadband must be addressed by DSL and ADSL, wireless transmission or satellite, Lambie says. “In some areas, wireless solutions are the answer and as a last resort, satellite may be the answer for very isolated people.”
Federated Farmers plans to meet with telco companies and local bodies to discuss the problem.
“We’re looking at bringing some of the major players together to work out how we can aggregate demand and find some cost-effective solutions.”
Federated Farmers is closely following the passage of the Telecommunications Bill and would like to see the introduction of an industry levy to fund Telecom’s Kiwi Share obligations, which require it to provide rural services wherever possible, regardless of cost and keep rural line rentals in line with residential ones.
“There’s talk of making the Kiwi Share more transparent — there should be an industry levy taken from all players and the fund should be contestable, so that if someone has more efficient technology than the incumbent they have the right to put it in.”
Getting adequate broadband to rural areas is important, Lambie says, “because it’s not just a case of the rural community wanting to communicate with the rest of the world — it’s a case of the rest of the world wanting to communicate with rural areas.”
Examples include the government (for e-government applications), banks and rural supply companies, dairy companies and meat companies wanting to communicate with their farmer clients and suppliers over the net, Lambie says.
The survey was carried out before the deal announced last week between the Community Trust of Otago and Telecom, which will see Telecom's high speed internet service, JetStream, made available in eight provincial Otago towns.
The industry section of the survey questioned larger southern businesses and the general response was that economic development is being constrained by lack of bandwidth, Benwell says.
Dunedin company Animation Research shares a link with four other companies in a collective in the city.
Systems manager Chris Hinch says bandwidth to Dunedin businesses “could be a lot better — the bandwidth we’ve got coming in to Dunedin is low”.
The collective was in the process of switching service provider when Computerworld spoke to Hinch. “We don’t have huge bandwidth requirements, but we do require stability.”
The wireless link will give the collective of companies 512Kbit/s and monthly requirements are approximately 15GB, 10GB of that in overseas traffic and 5GB domestic, Hinch says.
Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Hay says the region needs more bandwidth. “It’s a concern that the lack of fast internet connections could be holding back the possibility of advancement in business.”
In the wake of the report, “a number of options” are being looked at by a working party headed by Steve Canny, project co-ordinator of the report. “There are some interesting strategic partnerships being worked on involving wireless communications.”
The chamber has held discussions with Walker Wireless and plans to meet the company again, Hay says.
The response from the education section of the survey revealed that “a low percentage” of the 273 schools polled had “positive comments” to make about the service they’re receiving, Benwell says.
All schools in the region are using the internet, email or both and many are keen to enter into clustering arrangements (ie forging links through communications technology) with other schools and possibly tertiary institutes.
The preliminary results of the study were released last month and the full report is due to be delivered to communications minister Paul Swain shortly.
One industry sector, tourism, is making good use of the internet, the survey found.
“Between 1999 and now, the proportion of online bookings has quadrupled and phone and fax bookings have halved.”