It seems to me that the current issues with uptake of the UFB network are less about businesses having websites and more about users having reasons to upgrade their connection.
Amy Adams has been the subject of a bit of criticism from me this past month.  Her apparent fixation on putting firms ahead of people in a number of telecommunications issues we face is simply off target.

This fixation and her actions in dictating the price, quality and availability of broadband services, will undermine the economic well-being of rural people and communities.  This is most clear in three areas.

First is her interference in the price-setting role of the Commerce Commission in favour of securing revenues for a public company.  The consequence is that people pay more for their copper-based broadband services than is justified by international comparisons.

Second is her preference that the ‘digital dividend’ 700MHz band be allocated for the exclusive use of mobile phone companies.  The consequence is that those rural people who rely on mobile networks for fixed broadband services, will suffer an ever-reducing quality of service.

Third is her signalling that the Telecommunications Service Obligation (TSO) has no future.  Should this eventuate, then the regulated availability of telecommunications services to remote rural people will be undermined.

But I do not want to criticize Ms Adams unfairly.  She has done good in one area – helping businesses to take advantage of faster broadband.

the-digital-officeHer new Digital Enablement Training programme is about helping small businesses use the Government’s ultra-fast broadband (UFB) and rural broadband (RBI) networks.

“Fast broadband enables businesses to connect easily to the world, and our investment in broadband will support innovation, high-tech jobs, and grow productivity.” says Ms Adams.

This statement is true enough.  And a business need for training in using digital technologies has been identified.

The taxpayers’ investment in the digital needs of businesses lies alongside their investment in the digital needs of urban people.  But still the urban UFB network faces issues.

Earlier in August, Ms Adams reported that the implementation of the UFB and RBI programs was ahead of their two year targets.

In an upbeat take on the rollout of the new networks, she advised that more than 300,000 end users now have access to UFB fibre.  Yet despite there being no necessary cost to upgrading to ultrafast broadband, uptake by those end users is only 3.3%.

That is one tenth of the uptake of the RBI network (38%) which is now available to more than 149,000 homes and businesses in rural areas.

It seems to me that the current issues with uptake of the UFB network are less about businesses having websites and more about users having reasons to upgrade their connection.

It is less about the digital enablement of businesses and more about the digital literacy of people.

“The internet is a strong and growing marketplace. Faster broadband can deliver greater productivity and lower costs, but small businesses need to know how to use it to maximum effect.” Ms Adams says.

If that is true for small businesses, then it is more true for rural people.  Especially in areas of well-being like education, health and employment.

This is supported by recent international data – high levels of broadband adoption improves the well-being of rural communities and households.  Where people embrace broadband, the growth in household incomes and education is higher, and more firms establish themselves which leads to more jobs, lowered unemployment and poverty rates.

The lesson is clear.  If urban people are reluctant to embrace high speed broadband, then Amy Adams should spend the money in rural areas where it will be appreciated.