Investigations into rural internet

One of the aspects of our due diligence investigation into our land was the availability of internet. Since I work in IT, and since an online presence is important to our various endeavours, getting a good and reliable internet connection was necessarily important to us. We had already pulled out of one block of land because it appeared that internet was thin on the ground out there, and so it was important for us to check this out.

New Zealand was a relatively early adopter of the internet, as could be expected given our remoteness. However, while our people love to be online, we don’t necessarily get good speeds. Our links to the rest of the world are few in number, and internal infrastructure (or lack there of) is an obstacle. We love to hate Chorus, the telephone lines and infrastructure company, and it’s almost certainly true that some decisions they have made over the years have exacerbated the problem; but the biggest challenge is our population density. New Zealand’s population density is said to be about 18 persons per square kilometre, only a little more than half that of the United States (and that’s with Alaska and other sparsely populated areas included). The Government has spent several years leading the charge to bring fibre (“Ultra Fast Broadband” or UFB) to homes and businesses, but that is only really in the cities and large towns, though there is a plan to bring fibre also to smaller towns especially where there are schools and hospitals. Word on the ground, naturally, is that Chorus has no plans to do fibre to the home outside urban areas; and they can’t really be blamed, as putting what might be tens of kilometres of fibre in the ground to look after only a few hundred customers is not really worth their time. They do offer a process for “Next Generation Access on Application” (abbreviated to NGA on Application, or NOA), but the ball park figures typically end in four or five zeroes.

So where does that leave us? Well, in rural areas where phone cable exists, VDSL is available (for customers very close to the cabinet), or ADSL (for customers moderately close to the cabinet). But we were told on enquiry with ISPs that our property is either just beyond the effective range of ADSL, or just within it but far enough away from the cabinet that we could expect poor and slow service. Scratch that, then.

That leaves us with three other options: The so-called rural broadband initiative (RBI), which uses the cellphone network; terrestrial wireless; or satellite. The good news is that both RBI and terrestrial wireless are likely to be available where we will be building, because satellite is not a desirable option: one pays through the nose for very limited bandwidth allowances, slow speeds, and weather driven outages. RBI and terrestrial still have quotas and speed limits, but the speeds are comparable to what one might hope to achieve with VDSL in the towns, and quotas are what they are – it is just one of those things about living in rural areas. If your lifestyle absolutely requires unlimited internet, the lesson is that you really should live in an actual town.

And who knows? In years to come, it might even be cost-effective to do fibre in rural areas, but I’m not holding my breath. Still, we will put a duct in the ground just in case, because one never knows what tomorrow may bring.

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