Broadband rollout needs to be carried out properly to protect smaller local providers.

Having broadband access is a societal good, there's no doubt about that.

Being connected makes everyday things like shopping, paying tax, bookings, banking and other services easier and faster. And of course access to entertainment, social media, education, health advice and much more.

The above is true for cities, but even more so for rural areas. Out there, the above basics for living can mean hours of driving on country roads to the nearest town or city if you have to do it in person instead of over the internet.

It's not just at the individual level. Network connectivity will soon make a big difference to ensure our farmers remain competitive and sustainable, through the use of sensors that measure soil parameters and more.

Advertisement

That the benefits of broadband are relatively greater in remote areas to people than in cities is nothing new - successive governments have recognised this and tried to roll out connectivity in rural areas.

It would be welcome, too: Northlanders tell me that the Government should forget about upgrading the bridges and instead make sure fast broadband comes to every part of the top of the country.

The good news is that there is more money being made available to sort the poor provincial connectivity through the Rural Broadband Initiative Extension or RBI2.

The bad news is that RBI2, if done wrong, could hurt smaller local providers who have invested their own money for innovative wireless solutions to deliver broadband in remote areas.

It's happened before, with the government-funded Project PROBE (the catchy acronym for Provincial Broadband Extension) that started in the first year of the new millennium under Labour.

Project PROBE was meant to deliver fast broadband to schools in rural areas as well as businesses and homes afterwards as the network was built out.

The progress of Project PROBE was painful to watch with wireless provider Woosh pulling out of the contracts it won in Northland, Wairarapa and Canterbury, with Telecom hopping in to sort out the mess (tinyurl.com/projectprobe).

Elsewhere, the expensive-to-install Extend wireless service offered too little for the money, and uptake was poor (tinyurl.com/pooruptake).

Advertisement

Some regions were meant to be covered by satellite broadband which required large, difficult to install dishes and again, expensive equipment for customers (tinyurl.com/satelliteoption).

Project PROBE ignored the fact that rural broadband needs to deliver the same as the city variety: installation costs in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands with quick-to-install customer premises equipment, low latency and reasonably high speeds and large data caps.

Furthermore, any provider needs to have a plan to match future needs and growth with technology upgrades.

Deploying tech discarded from city broadband installations in rural areas and then effectively abandoning it by not upgrading it is not what taxpayer money should be spent on.

The economics of rural broadband are of course different from city connectivity -- an ISP out in the sticks isn't going to have tens or hundreds of thousands of customers in one area to spread out the costs.

That's where innovation comes in - being nimble, knowledgeable about technology and finding and applying the best bang for the buck type of solution for customers.

If you're a local or regional player who has worked hard to provide great service for your customers only to face a larger, national competitor where taxpayers shoulder the financial risk there's not many options apart from getting out of the connectivity business as soon as possible. This means staff layoffs, loss of expertise and less competition.

Unlike cities, local providers won't be able to create a viable business by going down the wholesale route through RBI towers which are open access - the economies of scale aren't there to support such business.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) confirmed that RBI2 is open to national, regional and local providers. The RBI2 investment also has the goal of promoting competition with what MBIE calls niche local solutions.

We'll see what RBI2 ends up creating, but let's hope it won't be a reduction in local innovation and employment.

Why you need speed

Netflix launched yesterday, a silly day to pick given the cricket semi between the Black Caps and the Proteas.

When the World Cup's over though, you can start bringing on Netflix because it's really quite affordable - high-definition with two streams is just $12.99 a month.

The four-stream 4K Ultra HD option at $14.99 is what I'm interested in. Apart from the high 3840 by 2160 pixel resolution, the 4K films are apparently shot with 10-bit colour precision and 60 frames per second for more realistic images (tinyurl.com/netflix4k).

That kind of high-def streaming requires good bandwidth though: Netflix says at least 20 megabits per second (and a 4K screen of course).

To use all four Ultra HD 4K streams, you'd need at least 80Mbps. Thank you, Netflix, for making my just under 40Mbps VDSL2 connection seem inadequate, and damn you, Chorus, for not rolling out UFB in my area until 2017.

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.