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Living rurally doesn’t mean being cut off from the world. Find out what your options are for broadband in non-urban areas.
Updated . What changed?
While living in the country has plenty of benefits, there are times when you can feel a bit isolated in terms of access to services that city-dwelling Kiwis enjoy.
Broadband is one service that has frustrated rural New Zealanders for years. Either plans were too expensive, the connection left much to be desired, or simply there was no broadband available at all. However, thanks to the Rural Broadband Initiative, there are now more options to get connected.
Your rural broadband options
There are four types of broadband that are available to rural customers. These are delivered by a group of nationwide providers who have coverage over much of the country, and smaller regional providers who serve a particular part of New Zealand.
At a glance:
- Fastest: Fibre
- Most reliable: VDSL or fibre
- Cheapest: ADSL/VDSL
- Most expensive: Satellite
- Most common: Wireless
ADSL and VDSL is widely available as they use regular copper phone lines to deliver internet into your home. Depending on how far away you are from an exchange or cabinet, the speed you will get could be as high as 50-70Mbps for downloads on VDSL or as low as 1Mbps on ADSL. The RBI has brought a large improvement in the service so far. With more to come, you could have access to faster broadband in the future.
In areas where fixed-line services are unavailable, there is a chance that you will be able to get a 3G or 4G RBI wireless connection. 4G is the preferred option offered by many broadband providers with speeds that can be almost as fast as fibre. There is also the 3G RBI network, and while it has slower speeds of up to 20Mpbs for downloads, it’s a decent alternative if 4G is not available. To get connected to wireless broadband, you may need an aerial installed on your roof. However, if you live near a cell tower, a plug-in modem could be all you need to get online.
Rural wireless plans for rural usually come with a maximum of 300GB per month, but a small number of ISPs do offer more than this. As well as the nationwide providers, check out the regional companies in your area who have their own fast networks.
Fibre is the fastest broadband connection but it is not often available in rural areas. However, you may be able to get it if you live near a hospital or school that has been connected with fibre through the RBI.
But, getting fibre installed at your property involves getting the cable to your home from the road so trenching work is required. How far your home is from the road, how far you are from the cabinet or the exchange, and the density of properties around you will factor into what you will need to pay for the installation.
If you are unable to get ADSL, VDSL, wireless or fibre then your only other option is satellite broadband. While satellite does mean you can get online, it does have its downfalls. Not only do you need to have a large satellite dish on your roof, but you’ll also have slower speeds than other connection types and an expensive plan with a small data cap.
Speeds are improving though, and it’s possible to get up to 30Mbps download. There can also be restrictions on how you use your data allowance, as it may be split between peak and off peak times. However, unlike wireless broadband, you do have the option of unlimited data with a satellite plan.
There are currently three providers that offer satellite in New Zealand, with the service available on the Chatham Islands, Kawau Island and Great Barrier Island.
What rural broadband options are available near me?
If you are not sure what broadband options you can get at your house, you can find out through one of two ways:
- Visit the website of one of the larger telecommunication companies that offer rural broadband such as Vodafone, Spark or Gravity. Enter your address and you will be presented with the available connections and plans. If no options are available, try another rural provider.
- Check out the National Broadband Map. This tool shows what types of broadband are currently available. You can also find out which companies provide the service and what speeds you can expect.
The National Broadband Map makes life much easier as you can see straight away what is and isn’t available. You are shown which providers to get in touch with rather than wasting time searching online. Depending on the connection type, there may be one or multiple providers that can offer you a broadband service.
What if there are no rural broadband services available?
If the National Broadband Map shows that no broadband services are available at your house, it is likely due to being in a very remote area. In this case, you will need to consider satellite broadband to be able to get online.
However, since there are still a few more years of work to be done on the second stage of RBI, so there could be a chance that you will be able to get another broadband service in the future.
What is the Rural Broadband Initiative?
As well as a fibre broadband rollout across the country, the Government has partnered with New Zealand telecommunication companies on the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI). While the priority of RBI has been getting fibre to rural schools, hospitals and libraries, it has also given tens of thousands of rural New Zealanders access to faster internet. For some, it has given the opportunity to get connected for the first time.
The first stage of RBI is complete, and what has already been achieved includes:
- 3,500km of fibre laid around the country
- More than 150 Vodafone cell sites
- Over 1,200 broadband cabinets installed or updated
- Over 40,000 lines in areas that no previous access to broadband services
The second phase, which is expected to finish in December 2023, is underway. This will see enhanced broadband to 10,000 more homes and businesses including surge areas and off-shore islands.
With broadband extended to 99.8% of the population, this is good news for Kiwis that live in rural areas who want to be able to use the internet for business, school or leisure.
How much does rural broadband cost?
What you will pay for rural broadband depends on the type of connection that you can get.
ADSL, VDSL and fibre: You can expect to see similar monthly pricing for ADSL, VDSL and fibre to what non-rural customers pay.
Wireless: 4G Wireless broadband is a bit more expensive compared to wireless plans you can get in the city. Spark and Vodafone both charge $95.99 a month for 120GB, but 2degrees is only $85 for 170GB. If you’re looking for a bit more data, Lightwire has a 1000GB plan for $185 that comes with unlimited off-peak data.
Satellite: Satellite is the most expensive option with plans including 120GB of data spread over peak and non-peak times for $149 a month at Farmside, or unlimited for $199 a month.
Installation: Installation costs can be costly, but it depends on whether a standard or non-standard installation is required as in some cases you may not need to pay anything. If ADSL or VDSL are available then you probably won’t have any connection fees, but if you are getting fibre installed for the first time then you’ll need to factor these costs in.
Satellite installation can incur possible fees of up to $1,000, and if you need an aerial installed on a second storey roof or trenches dug for fibre, fees will apply. Your broadband provider will inform you of these costs before any work begins so you can confirm you are happy to proceed instead of receiving a nasty surprise at the end.
Unless you are limited to one provider that services your area, it pays to shop around and compare the costs of different plans. Some companies don’t display their rural plan prices on their websites so you may need to call and speak to someone to get a quote.
Which providers offer rural broadband plans?
While many of these ISPs offer rural and satellite broadband throughout the country, some are only available in certain regions.
This list is not exhaustive, as there are other ISPs that may be able to provide wireless broadband to your home depending on where you live in New Zealand.
How do I pick the right broadband plan for me?
Living in a rural or remote area usually means that you don’t have as many options as those living in the cities. However, in most cases, there is a solution thanks to the Rural Broadband Initiative and improvement of wireless networks.
If you have found on the National Broadband Map that there are multiple companies that can deliver broadband to you, contact each of them to find out about the plans and costs involved. Even if a company was listed on the map, it will need to confirm availability at your property and the expected speed.
Once you understand what broadband services are available to you, you can compare plans. Choose one based on the amount of data you need and the price you are willing to pay each month. If rural broadband is available through a company that you get other services such as power, landline, mobile through, it could be worth sticking with them as you may get discounts or loyalty rewards.