TCP: Without Local Content, UFB won’t be Ultra Fast

New Zealanders lucky enough to live near a new Telecom ADSL2+ Cabinet may have download speeds as fast as 20mbps. Those special few on VDSL trials or fibre today could have speeds as fast as 100mbps! Even with these fast connections speeds, users find performance to overseas websites is often very slow.

A lot of the blame for slow International speeds has been directed at New Zealand’s sole direct trans-pacific link, the Southern Cross Cable. New cables to the US and Australia planned by Pacific Fibre and Kordia plan to enter the market to add capacity and lower transit costs. These new cables won’t necessarily help as much as expected.
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Ultra Fast Broadband for Schools – By the Numbers

The funding of ultra-fast broadband for schools has been a policy aim of the National Government since at least 2008. With the formal introduction of the Rural Broadband Initiative, a goal of 97% coverage was set for schools connected to at least 100mbps broadband. That 97% figure has been repeated often, including in a speech by Stephen Joyce at the 2010 TUANZ Rural Broadband Symposium.

Based on February 2011 statistics from the Ministry of Education, Chorus published data on the Rural Broadband Initiative, and Crown Fibre Holdings releases on New Zealand’s 33 UFB regions, it is evident that that the funding provided by the Telecommunications Amendment Bill will fall short of policy aims, and will leave a significant number of schools and students connected to consumer-grade ADSL connections. The particular schools missing out and their location details are detailed on this blog in an article entitled “Broadband for Schools – Rural Communities Miss Out“. The charts below seek to quantify the problem.
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Broadband for Schools – Rural Communities Miss Out

With the “Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill“, Government hopes to fund two programmes to deliver broadband to all New Zealanders, with a focus on fibre for schools.

The Rural Broadband Initiative has been awarded to Telecom and Vodafone. Telecom will supply fibre connections to around 750 schools, servicing 74,000 students, and will upgrade around 1000 ADSL cabinets along the way. Vodafone will improve cellular phone coverage, and broadband coverage in areas unreachable by ADSL.

The Ultra Fast Broadband initiative will develop a new fibre infrastructure in New Zealand’s 33 largest cities and towns, over which retail service providers will be able to purchase a wholesale broadband service. Around 1340 schools and 550,000 students should be covered by this new broadband service.

Based on documents released at the conclusion of negotiations for the RBI however, it is apparent that close to 500 470 schools, servicing 114,000 108,000 students, will get no fibre at all through the current process. The MED, in response to questions about these schools, states that they should be able to get access to ADSL2+, and that “A procurement process is likely to commence in 2012-13”. (Updated figures 2011-05-16)
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Feedback on proposed variation (5) to Telecom’s Operational Separation Undertakings

Dear Minister,

In their 25th March 2011 letter to you, Telecom New Zealand state: “The RBI requires that the RBI services be provided on non-discriminatory and open-access terms – a commitment we are happy to make.” They specifically mention the “rural schools objective” and the “rural community objective”, but not necessarily in relation to the variations sought.

Telecom fails to mention another part the government’s stated Rural Broadband Initiative policy:

(f) The achievement of the RBI will be consistent with the following principles:
(i) making a significant contribution to economic growth;
(ii) neither discouraging, nor substituting for, private sector investment;
(iii) maximising the use of existing infrastructure; and
(iv) ensuring affordable broadband services.

It is apparent based one particular example noted in Telecom’s variation request that although Telecom is willing to meet the rural schools objective and the rural community objective, they are not willing to do so in a manner consistent with the principles stated above.
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RBI Fibre and Stranded Communities

In a TUANZ “After 5s” session in Wellington on Monday, March 21st, both the MED and Telecom came out to talk about the proposed Telecom/Vodafone RBI solution. One of the points made by Telecom is that while all new RBI fibre would be available to all comers as dark fibre, existing Telecom fibre would be restricted to “layer 2” wholesale services. Telecom says that their older fibre may not have enough cores for other users, may not have break-out pits in the right place, and really was only ever intended for use by Telecom.

Access to inexpensive dark fibre in rural New Zealand is a huge issue for alternative telecommunications providers. Rural areas are not large enough to support natural competition. The requirement for an alternative provider to purchase wholesale L2 services from an incumbent is enough to keep them out – either due to slow/no service provision or predatory pricing.
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Mobile Infrastructure Sharing / Mobile Co-Location

“Mobile infrastructure sharing is an alternative for lowering the cost of network deployment, especially in rural and less populated or marginalized areas.” (Lefevre, 2008) Infrastructure sharing can be as basic as sharing a hilltop or as complicated as sharing active network equipment. In this post, the various options available for passive infrastructure sharing will be discussed, with a focus on rural towers.

Passive Infrastructure refers to that infrastructure not directly involved in actively transmitting information. In addition to physical objects, elements such as electricity, cooling technology, and non-cellular transmission are considered passive, because management of these elements does not have an impact on the coverage or capacity of the mobile network.
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Rural Towers: Subsidies, Profit Motive, & Service to Rural New Zealand

From the advent of commercial radio it was recognized that rural radio and wireless communications were important to the development of the New Zealand. By the mid 1930s the government was already providing direct subsidies to broadcast radio operators in rural areas around the country in order to ensure universal coverage. The small number of commercial radio sites was expanded during a time of government administration of broadcasting from the mid 1930s through the early 1960s. The New Zealand Post Office increased again the amount of rural sites when it established mobile radio services in the late 1940s. Through the 1980s, rural radio broadcast and telecommunications sites enjoyed continued improvement and maintenance, to the benefit of rural areas that would not be economic to service otherwise.

With the split of telecommunications from the Post Office portfolio, and its sale to Telecom New Zealand, rural telecommunications towers came in to private ownership. Similarly with the corporatization of Broadcast Communications Limited (now known as Kordia) rural broadcast towers fell to management under a company required to turn a profit. These corporatization efforts have resulted in a low level of continued investment in rural towers, for a number of reasons.
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