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OPINION: Rise up Kiwis and demand better broadband

[Guest contributor Paul Brislen is chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association (Tuanz), a consumer advocate group representing large telecommunications customers. He is currently attending the Commerce Commission's Future Broadband conference, entering its second day in Auckland - Chris Keall]


It's not bad when a long-scheduled conference coincides with a celebrity demanding you fix the very problems you're meeting to discuss. And so it is that I've spent most of yesterday at a Commerce Commission conference on the future of broadband ducking in and out to answer media calls about Stephen Fry's comments on New Zealand's woeful broadband.

Fry loves New Zealand. He loves our landscapes, our movie makers, our flat whites. He's been rogered silly by a kakapo in the name of education, worked with Peter Jackson on the Dambusters remake and he's currently filming The Hobbit. But a brief bout of grumpiness regarding his internet connection and his call to arms has captured the attention of the telco industry, if only those at the conference.

Fry's point is clear - there is demand and there is a need for faster services, better data caps and broader reach of broadband services. On that score he found no dissenting voices at the ComCom conference. Instead, we all nodded in agreement, even the network operators who were present, because we've identified this problem and were meeting to discuss the solution's implementation.

The government has committed billions of dollars of investment, both public and private, to building a fibre network for urban New Zealanders and a hybrid, blended network for rural.The conference has the goal of working out what barriers to uptake there may be, if any, that would stop the UFB and RBI projects being successful. Based on Fry's comment, the answer is that there is no barrier that Kiwis won't climb to ensure they get proper broadband and the various parties should simply focus on building the network as quickly as possible and get out of the way. Build it, and they will come.

It's a mantra that we've heard a lot and as someone who's written those very words dozens of times it resonates with me. Broadband is the answer, now what's the question. The conference, however, intends to look a little deeper into the issue and so far it's generated quite a bit of discussion.

It's not the dull talkfest these types of conferences often are - instead there's a degree of passion coming through, passion and not a little frustration at how long it's all taking. But overall the attendees are keen to get on with the business at hand and the rollout of ultrafast broadband is the enabler behind their vision, not the reason for it.

That's critical - all too often we talk about broadband as if it was a thing, something you can buy. I need broadband, my broadband is broken, my broadband is too slow.

Broadband isn't the end game here. Building a network and standing back with a flourish and a "voila" won't cut it. Broadband is nothing without the content that runs over it. It will make more sense in the future to talk about broadband television, broadband email, broadband internet access, broadband health and broadband education.

The fear is that small business and consumers will sit back and decline to swap over to the bright and shiny fibre network we're spending so much on. The rationale, that "we're good for internet, thanks" doesn't hold much water when you consider Fry's comments and even less when you realise the level of frustration that is felt especially in these market segments. SME and consumers in particular are crying out for bigger data pipes - they want to embrace this technology and they want to get stuck in. If the ComCom conference does nothing more than reveal this to be true it will be worth attending, and that's just on day one.

More by Paul Brislen

Comments and questions

Optus Australia offer 1Tb at the same price I pay in NZ for 100 Gb... We are being ripped off.
Bring on the second cable...

That may be so. But have you taken into account that we have 4 million here and they have 20 million? or better still, why the UK and the US have a lot more people than us and they can justify the cheaper rates?

If he was on VDSL there would be no problem. The real issues here are -

1. Property he is in had capped broadband

2. People in media are making a big thing out of it for other reasons, and not letting all the facts get in the way of a good story.

UK has similar issues to us with broadband, unless you live in Japan, S.Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, speeds do vary.

[VDSL requires you to live on the doorstep of your local phone exchange or cabinet. Fibre works at any distance, and offers full-speed in both directions.

ADSL2+, more fibre backhaul and other steps to boost copper have made a real difference. But copper is maxing out - CK]

We are all content creators - being able to upload as fast as we can download would be a start!

New Zealand is one of four countries with data caps. They're hiding the real cost of broadband in New Zealand. Get rid of them.

If Fry stopped tweeting for a second he might free up half the broadband for the rest of us.

Thank you Stephen Fry for lighting a fire under some backsides. I'm sick and tired of having to explain to people in other countries that "no I can't watch the video you tried to send me because if I download it I'll bust the data cap and be on dialup for the rest of the month." How silly. And I pay big bucks for this "service." It would laughable if it wasn't so wickedly stupid.

Telecoms are still honouring Theresa Gattung's woeful legacy.

Paul Brislen! I recall contacting this fella a long time ago to alert him to the Xt debacle after telecom admitted to me that their system had failed (Senior engineers told me while trying to fix an issue my business had). What did he do? Nothing - ignored it! Perhpas its because (how understand it anyway) TUANZ is funded by the telcos? As much as everyone probably hates the fact Stephen Fry can get so much airtime hes probably done more then TUANZ has dared to achieve in its lifetime!

Considering Paul worked for Vodafone at the time (I am 99% sureI am not sure why he would be overly concerned with XTs issues.

Wherever Fry goes he throws his toys out of the cot to gain attention.
We have two daughters in Australia living in areas like Kapiti and Levin, and their broadband is much slower and more expensive than our in Kapiti.

OMG It's a no-brainer. Why the hell are you guys still talking"? "Yes we've identified there is a need for this." No sh$@ Einsteins. Hurry up and just do, FFS.

I've been back from SEA one year-still amazed at NZs lousy speed at home and buisness. The data cap is just a rip off. Singapore shows us where we need to be at - but if you want to really be frightened with how far back we lag try Seoul!

And it's not a broadband issue alone. Optus Australia is offering Lumia 800 $0 upfront at minimum total cost of AU$1,176.00 over 24 months. Can Telecom or Vodafone match that with a total cost of NZ$1500 over 24 months?

This is a circus, nothing more nothing less. Brislen is the latest in a long line of "celebs" weighing in whilst adding nothing useful.

Fry was throttled. He could have opted for a plan that didn't have throttling but he didn't and this is the real issue: Choose the right plan for what you're planning to do.

All I know is that if someone turned up ayt my house and maxed out my broadband I'd be pretty pissed.

Why not just be 'pissed' that you have an unreasonably low data cap in the first place.

What amazes me is that on any of many blogs I read especially the IT ones, there are a flurry of defenders as to the status quo. I am convinced that Telecom especially employ staff or consultants to calm the waters of dissent either that or there are staff who feel so loyal to the hand that feeds they defend the old firm come hell or high water.
Broadband & Data caps in NZ are a joke and we get screwed. Those who think otherwise need to get out more.