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Telcos ready for impact of Covid-19

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 17 March 2020, 4:53 pm

New Zealand's telecommunications infrastructure will be able to cope with the expected surge in demand as more people work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. That's according to industry association the Telecommunication Carriers Forum (TCF).

 TCF CEO Geoff Thorns says the "industry has high quality networks which are more than able to respond to extra demands on the networks from people working from home and spending more time at home due to self-isolation… it has made investments in the past to ensure that ample capacity exists, and this was demonstrated by the performance of the networks during the Rugby World Cup."

Members of the TCF, which include all the main players such as Spark, Vodafone, Chorus, 2degrees and Vocus, are meeting regularly to ensure they can "respond and if necessary, share resources and logistics," Thorn says.

"The industry has worked together in many crisis situations before, such as the Kaikoura earthquake, to ensure that we collectively support New Zealand, and we will continue to do this as the situation develops."

Given the success of government-backed networks Ultra Fast Broadband and the Rural Broadband Initiatives, it's fair to assume the country's telco networks will be able to cope with a surge in demand. Just last week the Commerce Commission released a report which showed there are 880,000 homes and businesses with fibre connections, surpassing copper connections for the first time.

The issue will be the 'digital divide', that is those New Zealand households that don't have internet access, often because they can't afford it. In the 2018 Census, 1.3m households stated that they had access to the internet, out of 1.5m total households stated.

For example, if the Ministry of Education were to close schools and kura, and if virtual lessons were begun on a mass scale, what would happen to the students who don't have internet access at home? In its bulletin to schools this week the Ministry noted that its staff will be calling all schools and kura to find out how prepared they are to offer online learning, and how many students don't have internet access at home.

I expect that this will be one of the issues the telcos will need to consider at their Covid-19 meetings. How they can help ensure every New Zealand child gets their basic right to an education during a pandemic.

Katrina Casey, a Deputy Secretary with the Ministry of Education, told Radio NZ today that following their research into digital readiness they will be able to determine "what kind of telecommunications support is going to be needed so that we can start to have discussions with various telcos about what arrangements might be needed."

 


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