The New Zealand Commerce Commission claimed there is a clear disparity in broadband service performance and cost between urban and rural areas, as it drilled into the experience of consumers living beyond the nation’s fibre footprint for the first time.

In a regular annual report the Commission explained it had previously used national averages to assess broadband access, but is now focusing on the options available to 13 per cent of the population unable to access fibre.

Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson stated the latest report showed copper and 4G services were typically slower and more expensive.

Rural broadband is also more likely to have data caps at a time when the rest of the country has moved to unlimited plans.

“If you live in a rural area, your basic copper connection, averaging 9Mb/s, will cost you about the same as what someone in the main centres pays for a 300Mb/s fibre plan.”

Gilbertson said affordability is still an issue, with rural consumers “paying more, and getting less” than those in cities. The cost and performance differences created a shift in rural consumer choice over the past year, with copper connections falling below 50 per cent as people shifted to wireless options.

Satellite was the fastest-growing technology, accounting for almost 5 per cent of all rural broadband connections.

Gilbertson predicts satellite broadband providers will deliver a bump in competition in rural areas in future, along with government initiatives around broadband access and incentives for fibre expansion.

“Starlink has been a real game changer, delivering average download speeds of over 100Mb/s and giving rural consumers more choice than they have had before.”

The Commission commenced a study of rural connectivity last month.