What more is to be done for Rural Internet?

... is a question I've been working on a lot recently, and in particular through a number of engagements that I'd like to tell you all about. 

InternetNZ has an interest in rural connectivity because we want all New Zealanders to be able to share in the economic and social benefits of the Internet. We're also interested in it because we recognise that there are big challenges in this area - the hard realities of technology capability, versus topography, versus economies of scale - but also that there are some big opportunities if we get this right - social inclusion, economic return, enabling Internet innovation in New Zealand's traditional areas of economic strength. 

We also applaud what the Government has done with the Rural Broadband Initiative; it is always good to see more investment from the Government in addressing the challenges and opportunities above. However, we question whether it is enough to do the job right, to do it properly, and to keep rural New Zealand adequately connected.

It was in this same spirit that I spoke to Parliament's Commerce Select Committee recently, primarily to say that while the investments in rural connectivity are great, we need a new vision - a new aspiration. The RBI was designed to deliver 5Mbps. While that benchmark has apparently been exceeded in a number of cases following the RBI, it is still a damn sight short of the 100Mbps we are rolling out through urban New Zealand, and the 1Gbps much of Dunedin now enjoys.

Simply put, 5Mbps made more sense five years ago - it makes less sense now. We can't afford to leave rural New Zealand behind in connectivity, and we need to continue to discuss and work together to find solutions.

One of those solutions is the second phase of the RBI - and we have made a submission on the Request for Information process that you can see in the submissions section of our website. Again, we welcome additional investment, but we argue that communities should be able to play more of a role in deciding which solution is best for them.

I also had the opportunity to speak to the TUANZ/RHAANZ Rural Broadband Symposium and update that on the work we have done with Digital Development Associates on Hills, Holes and Poles. My message here was that while additional Government investment is great, rural New Zealand does not need to wait for someone else to solve their connectivity challenges for them. Our findings with Hills, Holes and Poles is that there are plenty of great examples of communities joining with those that know what they're doing, and deploying infrastructure in collaboration to meet their unique requirements. If they can, others can too.

And finally, last night I was at Fieldays in Hamilton, as a guest and speaker at MYOB's event regarding "Can Technology Save Rural Small Business?". My answer was provocative - technology and the Internet can save rural communities, but those businesses that don't adapt to the challenges and opportunities that the Internet provides won't be save-able. In this regard, I referred to the work that we funded with others in the Innovation Partnership, resulting in a report by Sapere Research that you can see here about opportunities for all businesses in New Zealand - this focused on specific opportunities and challenges for agriculture and dairy. You can see that report here: (warning, PDF): http://www.innovationpartnership.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Sapere-Google-INZ-The-value-of-internet-services-to-New-Zealand-Businesses_-_Report-31-March-2014.pdf

There is more to be done here. I am looking forward to meeting with the Minister, Amy Adams, at the Kapiti Technology Expo to hear about what happens next with RBI-2. She will also be joining us at NetHui to tell us all more as well. For now though, InternetNZ is going to keep plugging on here - because we believe rural New Zealand does need good quality Internet, and because getting rural New Zealand connected is good for us all.