Tuesday, 07 April 2020 08:55

COVID-19: Rural broadband customers stiffed?

Written by  Nigel Malthus
Both Spark and 2degrees have lifted caps for their rural broadband customers, however, Vodafone claims it can’t. Both Spark and 2degrees have lifted caps for their rural broadband customers, however, Vodafone claims it can’t.

All three big telcos – Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees – are offering 24/7 unlimited data for urban broadband users in response to the COVID-19 lockdown forcing people to stay at home.

Meanwhile, both Spark and 2degrees have also applied this offer to their rural broadband customers. However, Vodafone claims it can’t. 

Instead the company is only offering unlimited data between midnight and 9am. Rural broadband runs on the mobile phone system rather than the high-capacity fibre now common in urban areas. Vodafone says it has more rural customers, but less radio spectrum available.

Sharina Nisha, Vodafone NZ’s head of networks and platforms told Rural News that the company had heard the calls from its rural customers who want more data during level 4 lockdown.

“We would love to offer unlimited data to our rural customers at all times – but the rural network has a limited data supply and is simply not built for the hugely increased capacity we’re experiencing at the moment,” she explained.

“This would require additional radio spectrum and Government investment via the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI). This means that if we removed data caps now, it would degrade the experience overall.”

Vodafone’s wholesale & infrastructure director, Tony Baird, says the company “entered new territory” as New Zealanders turned to their devices to stay connected during the lockdown.

He claims overnight data usage climbed 40%, showing that the overnight unlimited offer has been well-received.

“Overall, we’re seeing massive increases in data and voice traffic,” Baird told Rural News

“To provide an analogy, if the internet was a road; we’re seeing anywhere between 20-70% more cars join the highway all at once. 

“But our network is built to handle traffic peaks, and we’re doing all we can to keep New Zealanders connected.”

He says more Government support is required to further increase capacity on the rural networks – with additional spectrum allocation being a quick fix.

“In the longer-term, additional investment into the Rural Broadband Initiative will go a long way to keeping rural customers connected at times of crisis like we currently find ourselves in.”

The midnight to 9am unlimited offer also applies to the country’s largest specialist rural broadband provider, Timaru-based Farmside, which Vodafone acquired in 2018.

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