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Stephen Fry should admire our broadband

What a whinging Pom Stephen Fry is! He's barely been in New Zealand two minutes, and he's already slagging off our broadband.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

What a whinging Pom Stephen Fry is! He's barely been in New Zealand two minutes, and he's already slagging off our broadband.

The film star has branded it a "digital embarrassment", and says that Kiwis should "rise up" against providers like Telecom NZ.

Of course, it turns out that he was apparently simply staying in a house that had exceeded its monthly broadband cap, and had its speed throttled instead of having extra charges imposed.

The problem has been solved, and it seems that Fry is now happily tweeting away again, and enjoying more of our good coffee.

The trouble is that while it is easy to slam New Zealand's broadband, the country is progressing well, and has a good story to tell — which is something that we have been hearing about in Auckland this week.

I accept that our broadband is not perfect. It can be slow and unreliable, but let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

As a Pom myself, I have spent much of my recent time in the UK, and, while Sky provides fine home-based internet in my parents' Yorkshire village, the mobile internet sticks do not work, even though the village is large and barely 10km from the city of York.

In New Zealand, my Vodafone stick works pretty well by main roads, and in built-up areas. Many large towns and cities, like Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton, even offer free Wi-Fi in their central business districts, something that I have yet to experience in the UK, even though I am told it exists in places like Swindon and Milton Keynes.

However, judging by the support he has received, Stephen Fry has struck a chord.

There remains much dissatisfaction in New Zealand at the state of broadband, at least judging by the audience at the Future With High-Speed Broadband conference, who no doubt all have vested interests in the matter.

Such critics are right in promoting the benefits of broadband, something highlighted by the the Alcatel-Lucent study released at the event, which reveals that high-speed broadband will boost the country's economy by NZ$33 billion over 20 years.

Industry figures also highlighted how faster broadband will benefit their sectors, and, naturally, we heard about benefits to education, health, teleworking, etc.

Thus, we all have a vested interest in ensuring that high-speed broadband arrives as quickly as possible and is widely used, with new applications for us all to use, as well.

Luckily, New Zealand has its Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) initiative and the Rural Broadband Initiative, and the release of the 700MHz spectrum from the digital TV switchover should help plug the gaps in rural areas — the place where many of the country's exports stem from.

Already, we have heard about how New Zealand has improved its global-broadband rankings, and telecommunications commissioner Dr Ross Patterson said on some OECD reports that New Zealand even has better broadband than Australia.

We in New Zealand and Australia must grapple with mountains, forests, deserts and huge areas of open countryside. We have massive projects to be funded by a relatively small population.

By contrast, the UK government doesn't face funding or subsidising various initiatives, and there is no all-encompassing initiative like we both have down under. Neither do the UK telcos and other providers face the geographic challenges that we have. They have a much larger population, too.

There are the global links to consider, too; both New Zealand and Australia are situated in a relatively isolated and lonely corner of the planet.

It is far easier for an overcrowded little island like Britain to roll out its broadband, being closer to the European landmass as well as the US.

Thus, rather than whinge, Stephen Fry might want to look at the challenges New Zealand and Australia face with our broadband networks. I am sure that rather than carp, he will instead admire the courage and vision of our countries with our pioneering, nationwide projects.

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