our rural people are at the bottom of the Akamai list, beneath countries like Venezuela, Syria and Vietnam.
A question I have posed many times is “How much more should rural people pay for equivalent broadband services above what urban people pay?”

How much more we do pay depends on the rural broadband service provider we sign up with.  Seven times for rural wireless service provider InfoNet.  Nineteen times for RBI provider Vodafone.  I have long argued that this is not reasonable.

That question of reasonableness was raised with Communications and Information Technology Minister Amy Adams in an exchange of letters recently.

Even though our political representatives are known for being particularly reticent on such issues, her careful avoidance of the question is, in my opinion, unworthy.

In her response, Ms Adams acknowledges a concern about the lack of broadband capability throughout the country.  Fair enough.

But then she confuses capability with availability.  With rural broadband penetration running at about the same rate as urban (80%+), the availability of broadband is not the issue.  Equitable access to high speed broadband is.

akamai-study-2013A study by cloud computing provider Akamai, lists New Zealand’s 3Q2012 average connection speed at 3.9 Mbps, peaking at 17.8 Mbps.

Compared to what we are used to, it is tempting to think those rates are great.

Compared to the speeds required for new health, education and government services, those speeds are only adequate for today’s applications.

Compared internationally, our broadband average and peak speeds put us at the top of the lower third of countries surveyed.

Compared to peak RBI broadband speeds of 5Mbps, our rural people are at the bottom of the Akamai list, beneath countries like Venezuela, Syria and Vietnam.

To make the comparisons worse, the Akamai statistics record a declining (-1.7%) year-on-year average connection speed against a 6.6% increase in peak connection speeds.

Delving further in to the data, the percentage of New Zealand broadband connections with speeds greater than 10 Mbps has declined by a whopping 16% year-on-year.  Connections with speeds greater than 4Mbps have also declined (7.1%) compared to the previous year.

This is further evidence of the growing urban/rural digital divide being about access to high speed broadband, rather than just access to broadband.

The Minister justifies this situation on the basis of the “…economic realities of the cost of rural infrastructure.”  Those economic realities have not been justified through a cost-benefit analysis for rural broadband infrastructure.

The conclusion is that Amy Adams, like her predecessor Steven Joyce, loosely uses the economics argument to justify a predetermined position that disadvantages rural people.

That lack of regard for rural people is also evident in Ms Adams’ position on the installation costs of RBI connections.  Her government have “…negotiated [UFB connection costs] with the UFB partners to achieve a fairer balance of equity between homeowners.”  What that means for urban people, is that the around $1,000 cost to install UFB fibre services is free.  In an egalitarian society, it is reasonable to expect the same consideration for rural people who face RBI connection charges of around $600.  But Ms Adams simply ignores that basic fairness.

The Minister also ignores representations on the quality and pricing differences between UFB and RBI services.

Ms Adams advises that the RBI was put in place to bring significantly better broadband services to rural areas.  It does, but private wireless service providers like InfoNet do it better and cheaper.