Fortunately, there are better ways to spend your time in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a relatively costly place to do Internet-related business. There’s only one underseas cable linking it to the outside world, the Southern Cross, which goes from Australia to California via New Zealand.
That’s two paths in and out of the country, but one owner. It’s not a competitive market. According to Market Clarity, an Australian telecoms research company, Kiwis pay 5.8 times more than Aussies for a gigabyte .
Competition of a sort might be coming in the next couple of years, though. A plan to build a second link across the Tasman Sea was announced today. Telecom NZ, Vodafone and Telstra are investing US$60 million in a new cable between Auckland and Sydney, with completion expected in 2014.
There’s some skepticism about how much competition the cable will inject into the marketplace. The Southern Cross cable is also partly owned by Telecom NZ, and the company was a little vague about who would have access to the new link and on what terms. And it only goes as far as Australia, although from there you can find competing transpacific fiber.
The most recent attempt to break the Southern Cross monopoly was a venture called Pacific Fibre which folded last year. It invested several million dollars in developing a route from Sydney to Los Angeles, also by way of Auckland. But it couldn’t raise the US$400 million necessary.
A bailout was promised but not delivered by Kim Dotcom (his legal, if not original, name). He’s a German immigrant to New Zealand who is building a larger than life image for himself as he fights U.S. government attempts to extradite him on content piracy charges.
So we’re left with today’s announcement. It’s at least a half step towards competitive international bandwidth pricing for New Zealanders.
Lake Wanaka, New Zealand. Why spend time on the Internet?
I’ve been doing my annual check on New Zealand’s mobile telecoms, from a traveler’s perspective. Coverage appears to be much the same. Some prices have gone up and some down.
Vodafone and Telecom NZ both deliver 3G service pretty much everywhere I go, in both North and South Islands. I haven’t seen any change from last year in 2degrees’ coverage, which seems to focus on urban areas and not so much in the countryside, where I’ve been spending most of my time this trip.
Prices for mobile SIM cards seem to have dropped. A traveler arriving in Auckland last week could pick up a $5 SIM card from the Telecom NZ or Vodafone kiosks at the airport. Or wait until they get into town and get a free 2degrees SIM card from a tourist information center (i-Site information and assistance centers are ubiquitous in New Zealand and are a genuine convenience for international travelers). SIM cards of various kinds are also on sale at supermarkets and other retail outlets, at or near the $5 mark.
Once you have a SIM card, though, it appears the price of a megabyte is creeping up. Last year, I saw pay-as-you go plans that included an iPad compatible micro-SIM and 3 GB of data for $50. Now, the best price I’ve seen for 3 GB is $60. The low end hasn’t changed, though. $20 will still get you a micro-SIM and 250 MB of data.
On the wired and WiFi side, prices have definitely come down. Last year, a week’s worth of unlimited hotspot use from a major provider cost $50. This year it’s only $12. Same downward price trend in Internet cafes, where $2 an hour rates are commonplace. Kiwis I talked with say the same about home Internet costs.
Of course, the best option in New Zealand is to go off the grid and enjoy the spectacular scenery and good living. But these days, you do it by choice.