Saturday, 10 October 2015 12:00

Getting connected in rural communities

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The quality and variety of internet connectivity in rural communities varies greatly. The quality and variety of internet connectivity in rural communities varies greatly.

It's no secret that the quality and availability of internet connectivity in rural communities varies greatly.

Internet connections can be patchy in some areas to non-existent in others, with a few able to get speeds that rival those of their urban cousins.

The good news for those with below par connections is that things are on the rapid improve. This is due to two things: first, in 2015 the Government committed $150 million more to expand the rural broadband initiative (RBI), and to improve mobile coverage in black spot areas. This adds to the first $300 million RBI spend. Second, there is increasing competition between internet service providers (ISPs).

Given the many differences between packages and providers on offer, finding out which of them is right for you can be a minefield. The key is to find out which ISPs offer a product suited to your geographic location. A good place to start is the Chorus broadband capability map https://www.chorus.co.nz/maps

While the big guns – Spark and Vodafone -- cater to rural communities, it isn't their core business. You could consider dedicated rural internet provider Wireless Nation, or others. To see who offers what and where: http://www.therural.co.nz/country-living/rural-broadband-options-in-new-zealand

Check ISPs' installation prices before signing up as they can range from $99 to $599 depending on type of service, where you are and the proposed contract length. Ask about self-install options; many of the newer offerings throw this in, either gratis or at negligible cost, as part of the deal.

As part of the RBI, the Government contracted telco giant Chorus to bring broadband of at least 5Mbit/s to 86% of rural customers by 2016. Chorus says that by the end of 2015 it will have:

laid 3350km of fibre

installed or upgraded 1000 new broadband cabinets

enabled 40,000 lines in rural areas to access broadband services with no previous access

connected 1000 rural schools to fibre

connected 154 new Vodafone cell sites to fibre

given fibre access to 50 hospitals and integrated family health centres and 183 rural libraries.

If you live within 6km of one of the 138 cell sites already erected you're in luck: fast, 4G connectivity is yours for the taking from most internet providers. Do your homework though; monthly prices are variable and there could be install costs.

If the cost of getting fibre to your farm is prohibitive, or you're too far from a connection service, then satellite is good option. It's fast, reliable and reasonably cost effective. Wireless Nation uses the Optus satellite network which isn't prone to rain fade and has a high look angle with strong signal strength over NZ.

TrueNet, an independent agency measuring broadband performance, says the RBI is having an immense impact, halving download times for upgraded connections.ISPs report data usage has almost doubled in the last six months over our rural network as the latest technology becomes more accessible. Some farms are using real-time digital applications that improve productivity and help keep a lid on costs. The internet is a critical tool for rural businesses, helping them reach their customers quickly and providing access to local and global stock and land information.

Wireless Nation is a New Zealand internet service provider. www.wirelessnation.co.nz 

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