Farmside are raising satellite prices for some by 40% and slashing speeds from 1Mbps to one quarter of 1Mbps
Across the globe, people are reaping the benefits of modern telecommunications networks.  But not in New Zealand’s remote rural areas.

In Africa, SMS text messaging from mobile phones is helping improve the health, education and economic development outcomes of millions.

Governments across Asia, Europe, America and Australia, have understood the absolute importance of universal broadband connectivity.  Their high value programs will ensure that no one misses out on the benefits of high speed broadband.

Our government has committed $1.8 billion to urban and rural broadband networks.

In our urban areas, the $1.5 billion UFB program will ensure that 75% of New Zealanders have access to ultra fast fibre by 2019.  Connection to the fibre is free and $75 per month will get you speeds of 30 Mbps with a 30GB data cap.

Despite UFB take-up rates still being under 3%, urban people are coming to rely on high speed broadband for gaming, entertainment and social engagement.  That’s not exactly raising our productivity but those uses by the majority are necessary if the government is to see a return on it’s investment.

The $300 million RBI program’s community goal is for 86% of the 252,000 rural households to have access to broadband with peak speeds of at least 5Mbps.  Connection to RBI services will cost them up to $800 and for $110 per month, speeds will peak at 5Mbps on a 10GB plan.

On the face of it, that all sounds mighty fine.

Actually, it is not so fine to discriminate against rural people for a service that is becoming a necessary utility.   But yes, there is the matter of economics and no, it is not a sufficient justification to argue that rural people now have better broadband than they used to.

It is even less fine if you are one of the more than 100,000 people in remote rural New Zealand who rely on satellite services for their internet access.

For those people, broadband has become a necessity despite expensive installation costs, 1 Mbps speeds and 3GB data caps.

I am confident that not one person in an urban area would go back to dial-up internet once broadband has been experienced.

But that is exactly what some in our remote rural areas are being forced to do.

In the high-sided valleys typical of so many parts of our country, retail service provider Farmside are terminating satellite broadband contracts, forcing people to go back to dial-up.

IPStar satellite coverage

IPStar satellite coverage

For those farmers who contacted Rural Connect, Farmside are raising satellite prices for some by 40% and slashing speeds from 1Mbps to one quarter of 1Mbps.  I understand why they are doing this, but that makes it no more acceptable.

This action contrasts starkly with the hand dealt to the urban majority who directly benefit from government investment.  They see significant price reductions, increased speeds and data caps, and subsidies to upgrade to the new fibre services.

And so they get stung.  Ripped off by a system that puts economics so far ahead of people.  Yes a line of sustainable economics needs to be drawn – it just does not need to be drawn so low to the gutter.

That line is drawn by our government, which justifies the growing rural/urban digital divide on economic grounds.  If the same ideology had been in vogue when our electricity and telephone networks were first deployed, we would now be living in a third world society.  Which is a good description of the broadband our remote rural residents tolerate.