Bandwidth call falls on deaf ears

The bandwidth-poor have told telcos they want better access to the internet.

But according to Ernie Newman, head of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ), the carriers weren't listening.

The call for more bandwidth outside the main centres went up at a TUANZ-organised conference in Auckland late last month under the banner "Matching the market to the needs of the user".

The head of the Ministry of Education's IT in schools drive, Carol Moffatt, said the two-day event demonstrated there was user unanimity on the issue of the need for better bandwidth availability around the country.

"We need cyber-athletes and that takes adequate bandwidth," said Moffatt, referring to the frustrations many schools face in accessing the internet. She was on a panel of users and telcos in the event's final session.

Ministry of Economic Development spokesman Frank March said there's been a lack of leadership from telcos - and he singled out Telecom - on the bandwidth provision question.

"Telcos need to get on with it; I've been trying to get that message through to Telecom for years but it's been falling on deaf ears."

Bandwidth demands were echoed by two other panellists, representing a South Island local authority and Federated Farmers. But the phone companies on the panel seemed reluctant to absorb the message.

Clear spokesman Ian Scherger attempted to deflect the call by suggesting the internet access speed problem was in part poor website design. Telecom government and industry relations head Bruce Parkes said the main problem with rural internet access was electric fence interference. He said Telecom was happy with the quality of its copper and the telco was "increasing our view" of the network's ability to handle Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) fast internet services.

Two relative newcomers - TelstraSaturn and Vodafone - weren't much more receptive to user demands. Newman is unimpressed at the carrier response. He says telcos missed the opportunity by being absent on the first day of the event to hear in detail what users are demanding. "It's very disappointing and a little concerning that the two groups appeared to be talking past each other."

Newman says the carriers appear more concerned about expanding their service offerings in the cities to the exclusion of rural communities. "The failure of the telcos to listen to what users were asking for underlines that they're not taking the broadband issue seriously," he says.