Farmside keeping the country online during peaks in internet demand

RBI data usage increases by 74% and satellite data up 35% for Farmside rural customers

May 8, 2020

Over the past six weeks, the internet landscape has shifted – with digital tools becoming increasingly important for all parts of the nation, including the country.

Jason Sharp, General Manager of Farmside – New Zealand’s leading rural broadband provider, backed by One NZ – explains how this shift to digital has changed life on farms around Aotearoa.

“Rural internet usage has skyrocketed as we were all asked to stay indoors and stick to our bubbles, due to COVID-19. As I reflect back on what was an incredibly busy period, it was also a turning point for rural communities forced to go online in ways never experienced before. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve – but I also see lots of opportunity for the future of the internet in the country.

“In the past month we’ve seen stock auctions go online, our major agriculture exhibition become the Fieldays Online event and online discussion groups replace face to face gatherings. This comes with a broader reach in terms of markets – but also relies on good internet connectivity so that parts of the country aren’t left behind.

“When comparing April 1-14 with March 1-14, we’ve seen:

  • RBI data usage increase by 74% (with off-peak usage +168%, due to free overnight unlimited data)
  • Satellite data usage up 35%
  • Netflix viewing (all access types RBI, Satellite, ADSL, VDSL, Fibre) increase by 41%
  • Biggest increases by regions:
    • Greater Wellington: +96%
    • Mid Canterbury: +87%
    • Taranaki: +86%
    • Southland: +85%

“This has put incredible strain on our rural broadband network, and resulted in feedback – including a number of complaints – asking why country folk were being treated differently to townies.

“The reality is the One NZ RBI and mobile network was not designed for this once in a lifetime, unprecedented event. Just like dirt roads aren’t designed for 100km/hour traffic, our rural internet lanes have seen more pressure than ever before.

“And satellite connections have become even more important for those who aren’t within the 35km range of rural wireless broadband – or because the landscape renders line of sight to a cell tower impossible.

“We welcome the Government’s recent announcement to allocate $15 million into improving rural broadband capacity. It’s more important, now than ever, that Kiwis have access to reliable connectivity – and the needs of rural New Zealanders are no different. Rural Kiwis should not be left behind.

“It has been reassuring to see the rollout of RBI2 continue during this period of uncertainty. The ongoing investment in rural has meant that even more Kiwis have been able to benefit from 4G connectivity during the pandemic and they will continue to reap the benefits beyond this. And we need to do more.

“We need to build more 4G cell towers, invest more in rural broadband, and identify the communities who most need better internet services – but this requires industry collaboration via the Rural Connectivity Group and more government investment.

“As we moved to alert level 4, 100% of Farmside staff transitioned to working from home – often using the same RBI2 network in South Canterbury that our customers rely on across New Zealand. This was new for 90% of our business, but our platforms and services enabled a smooth transition and allowed us to continue serving our customers without disruption.

“Keeping our customers connected to enable work and education to continue from home has been our top priority, and I really want to acknowledge the role our customers have played. We have continued to educate our customers and the rural sector on how to get the best from their internet during this time of unprecedented demand and they’ve taken that on board.

“It’s a critical period for the dairy industry as dairy farming’s traditional moving day approaches, so it’s great to see this will go ahead as planned. Winter is a very busy time for the sector, and with the added strict controls to prevent the spread of coronavirus, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for our customers to relocate with us.

“We have seen increased demand across all our services as Kiwis work, learn and entertain from home. This fast-tracked some of our planned maintenance and upgrade work.

“We’re committed to advocating for our rural communities – and bridging the rural-urban divide.”

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