Rural broadband customers could be reducing costs by $71 a month with Spark’s expansion of its ‘urban priced’ Unplan wireless plan into parts of rural New Zealand.
The change would make 30,000 rural addresses across the country, including parts of Carterton, Masterton, Featherston, and Greytown, eligible for the more affordable plan.
“This means approximately 10 per cent of rural addresses will be able to access prices on par with those in urban areas, reducing costs for residents by up to $71 a month and making it one of the most affordable and highest data capped broadband plans available to rural New Zealand,” Spark said.
Spark product director Tessa Tierney said it was a positive step forward at a time when connectivity was more important than ever before.
She said rural wireless broadband plans were generally more expensive than in urban areas, because of the additional costs that come with building infrastructure in more remote areas and providing coverage across a highly dispersed population.
South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen said it was great that rural residents were finally being charged at an equitable rate to urban dwellers, given the lack of options in internet providers.
“However, there remains a need for continued investment in service accessibility, both to address further rural cell phone and internet coverage, and black spots in service all over Wairarapa.”
Tierney said despite the challenge, the company had identified an opportunity to open up 30,000 rural addresses to Unplan, due to the type of radio spectrum mobile towers were using.”
She said its long-term goal was to provide unconstrained capacity for all New Zealanders, no matter where they lived.
She said while it couldn’t solve the challenge on its own or overnight, Spark was excited to take a step forward.
Tierney said increasing coverage and capacity in rural areas needed a joint approach, with government complementing industry investment in areas that would be considered particularly uneconomic.
She said government’s investment of a further $60 million for rural broadband, and an additional $10m to make suitable radio spectrum available to rural communities needing more capacity and coverage, was great example of the investment needed.
She said the company was looking forward to supporting the rollout of this fund, while continuing to invest in new mobile towers through its joint venture, The Rural Connectivity Group, which had delivered more than 220 new rural towers to date – and has another 180 in plan.
“So, while we are not yet at the stage where we can extend offers like this to all rural customers, that is our goal,” Tierney said.
She said by working collaboratively with government and the broader industry it would continue to move towards unconstrained internet capacity for the entire country.
The announcement would build on the data cap increase Spark implemented for its rural wireless broadband customers for no additional charge last year – bringing those on 120GB wireless broadband plans up to 160GB.
Those on the 240GB plan moved to 300GB.
“Wireless broadband works by connecting customers to the nearest cell tower, rather than relying on physical infrastructure like fibre or copper to the home.”
Tierney said each cell tower had a certain amount of capacity available, which was shared by wireless broadband users at home, and mobile customers while out and about.
“A wireless broadband connection is similar in speed to a 4G mobile connection and typically faster than ADSL broadband – making it particularly compelling for many rural customers who do not have access to fibre.”
Spark had approximately 165,000 customers already using wireless broadband across New Zealand.
Spark said in most cases wireless broadband could be set up in minutes as there was no installation requirements, and because it was run through its mobile network, customers could get
end-to-end support, rather than dealing with multiple parties should they have a fibre or copper fault.
The Unplan offer flexes the price a customer would pay based on their monthly usage, giving them the freedom to use more if they want, and enjoy savings when they use less.
Prices start at $65 for a base data usage of 0-60GB, $75 for 60-120GB, and $85 for 120-300GB.
Unplan was already available to rural addresses where Spark has “plenty of capacity to maintain great services for everyone”.
Spark said it had contacted eligible rural addresses to let them know Unplan is available to them, including any existing customers who will be able to switch.
Spark said customers could also use its address checker to find out if their home is eligible at spark.co.nz/shop/internet