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Rural Internet -- What Rural Internet? 9 October 2001 Edition
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Hi-tech revolution and knowledge economy or not -- New Zealand has, and continues to be reliant on the strength of its primary sector for much of its growth and overseas earnings.

Of course, when we talk "primary sector," we're referring to the myriad of things that happen far from Auckland's Queen Street or Wellington's high speed fibre-optic loop.

We are beginning to hear a lot about how NZ has a digital divide that is more related to where you live rather than how much you earn -- and those who live in the country are all too often on the wrong side of that divide.

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So just how real is that utopian vision of hi-tech workers nestled in their country cottages, communicating with the world using the Net?

First of all we have to examine the image being painted by those who provide the technology.

Hands up all those who have seen the Telecom ad that opens with a man and woman waking in a sea-side house, far from the madding crowd. The woman crawls out of bed and fires up her laptop so that she can teleconference with the members of her company's board -- who are far away in the noise and bustle of a city tower.

Oh Telecom -- how disingenuous!

I'd love to know how many rural seaside houses have two-way broadband access!

In fact, one can't help but wondering if this is possibly even a breach of the advertising standards -- after all, Telecom are promoting a product that they are often simply unable/unwilling to provide.

Readers Say
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  • Rural DSL... - Geoff
  • rural internet... - Grant
  • Have Your Say

    As many regular readers will know -- I'm a rural dweller and I've managed to start and grow a number of online ventures (including this one) from my remote location -- but that doesn't mean it's been easy.

    For a start -- the very best speed I can get on my dial-up connection is about 28Kbps -- around half of what you'd expect in the city. Even then, I have to use a rather expensive modem -- cheap modems simply can't hold a connection for more than a few minutes at a time.

    There is a fibre-optic cable just 1.5 Kms away from my gate -- but I've been told that it's unlikely I'll ever see a DSL service out here.

    Sometimes the phones go out for a day or more at a time -- and it's almost always the fault of the aging exchange which services this area. In fact, when the power goes off for more than about 6 hours (that's another story) the local exchange hardly ever resets properly without a visit by the local technician.

    Of course thanks to the nice people at IHUG I also have satellite-based broadband service which, although somewhat variable in performance, is usually bloody brilliant! Unfortunately it too relies on a phone link for the outbound traffic so if the phones are out -- then it's unusable too.

    But that's where Vodafone comes in -- their GSM digital service is my "last resort" connectivity. They now have better coverage than Telecom's mobile service so I get a good, solid 9600bps connection using Vodafone which, while not fast, at least allows me to carry on working when Telcom has let me down again. Hooray for Vodafone!

    Despite a bit of a push from government and services such as IHUG's satellite system, the future for rural Net users is not good. While you might be able to run small publishing operations such as the ones I operate, you can forget all about running live streaming video or the like and if you want reliability -- be prepared to spend money on a cellular backup system -- if you're in the coverage zone.

    But stop and think -- what kind of fool would even consider operating a Net-based venture from the countryside when you have so many limitations and need all this extra paraphenalia?

    Hang on -- I think I've just insulted myself.

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