"There will be some rural customers who cannot get Spark Sport and the Rugby World Cup. That is a fact," Spark's director of sport Jeff Latch told The Country, shortly after the telco revealed its RWC pricing.
The Spark man's admission follows a recent briefing from Crown Infrastructure Partners (formerly Crown Fibre Holdings) - the Crown agency overseeing the public-private ultrafast broadband rollout.
CIP told MPs that some 40,000 rural households' broadband won't be good enough to stream Rugby World Cup.
Earlier, Latch told the Herald that TVNZ would help address the issue. This morning, Spark detailed that the state broadcaster would screen 12 games free, including all of the All Blacks games - albeit with the pool games and the quarter final on a one-hour delay.
"That was a big call for us to make, and we made it because we want to make sure that everyone in New Zealand had the opportunity to see the All Blacks through those pool matches and knock-out matches," Latch said.
Additionally, Spark is letting pubs and clubs screen games live for the price of an individual subscription ($60 early bird from May, rising to $90 just in September). One rural pub owner told the Herald he usually pays Sky a $750 commercial rate, so he appreciated the financial accessibility - as long as the stream turned out to be good quality.
Latch said Spark was also considering setting up "viewing locations" for people who didn't have good enough broadband, and no local pub or club screening the game.
However, one rugby ran who contacted The Country was not mollified. He said "This rugby fan is pissed off. Anything short of live coverage of the whole tournament is unacceptable. [Spark] bought the rights. They have to deliver to every household in New Zealand who wants to watch. The delayed coverage announced today is an insult."
Sky offered near universal coverage for the 2015 Rugby World Cup via satellite, but Latch argued that only around 400,000 households were signed up - and that others had to watch it delayed on Prime.
Tech commenter Paul Brislen notes that if the government-backed Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) doesn't reach to your place - or won't in time for the RWC - then a local wireless internet provider can be a good option. They're listed at Wispa.co.nz.
Latch said Spark was actively working with other ISPs, who had a vested interest successful RWC streaming.
The hidden cost: busting your data cap
The country host Jamie Mackay said data caps were another issue. While most in urban areas are no on unlimited plans, rural plans - especially those where broadband is delivered by satellite - are often on tight caps, meaning it could cost "hundreds of dollars" to in excess data charges to watch the RWC.
Farmside's entry-level plan, for example, offers 10GB of data during peak times, and 20GB off-peak.
Latch said that around 6GB of data per game for a high definition stream, people could still squeeze RWC coverage within their limits.
Urban issues, too
There are also issues in urban and provincial New Zealand, given Chorus' assessment last month that it can hookup another 90,000 households before the RWC kicks off - leaving it about 600,000 shy (Spark argues that fibre is not essential, but experts say it's best for a smooth stream, especially at busy times or if you want to "cast" to a big screen TV - especially if other in your household are on the internet at the same time)
What about refunds?
Spark is looking to lure people to sign up early with its $60 early-bird pricing.
That is a good deal for paywalled sports tournament by any measure. But what about those who're unsure if their broadband connection will be up to snuff in September?
You could move, or a promised fibre or wireless upgrade could fail to materialise in time, or other factors could come into play - including a worse-than-thought experience when everyone tries to pile in to watch a game at once, if you're on copper.
To wit, I asked Spark to clarify its refund policy.
A spokeswoman replied, "We have a high degree of confidence in Spark Sport and think that our customers will love it – but if a customer has had a poor experience that isn't caused by another party, we're happy to have a conversation and if suitable, look into an appropriate refund or a credit.
"To encourage customers to give Spark Sport a go, we do have a returns option in advance of the tournament kicking off. So for instance, if a customer buys a tournament pass, trials it but isn't happy with the experience in advance of the tournament starting, if they want to return their pass, we will cancel the pass and refund them the full amount paid.
"That's also why we have a free seven-day trial on the Spark Sport monthly subscription – so that customers can trial the service and cancel within the week if for any reason they don't want to continue."
How to watch the Rugby World Cup
A Google Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port of your TV and uses your home WiFi to stream sports from your device onto your TV. When watching something on the Spark Sport app, just click the Chromecast icon, at the top right-hand side of the screen, to cast the sport to your TV.
Spark Sport is not currently available on Apple TV. The company says it is working to introduce this functionality over the next 6 months. In the meantime, if you have an Apple TV and an Apple device, you can AirPlay from your device to a big screen.
Laptop and Desktop
You can also catch the action from the Spark Sport website, either on your laptop or desktop computer. Spark Sport is available on Windows 7, 8 and 10 and MacOS X on the following browsers: Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
If you're out and about, sometimes you'll want to watch the action from your smartphone. To do this head to the App Store or Google Play Store and download the app. The Spark Sport app works on iOS 10 and above and Android 5.0 and above. Spark Sport will use your mobile data for streaming, if you are not connected to WiFi.
Spark Sport is not currently available to watch using an app on Smart TVs. Once again, the company says it is working to introduce this functionality onto a number of different TV makes and models. Samsung will add Spark Sport to its Smart TV app line up in May, supporting models going back to 2016.
A Spark Sport spokeswoman says "We have not announced a partnership with Xbox or Playstation. We do aim to expand the number of platforms that Spark Sport is available on, to make it as accessible as possible."