Kim Dotcom tells us New Zealand has third world internet. Dotcom is a showman. He knows how to create headlines, but is there any substance to the claim?

Let’s start the fact-checking by looking at internet speeds. How does New Zealand compare?

It depends who you ask.

According to the Akamai state of the internet report published in July, the average connection speed in New Zealand is 4.4 Mbps. That’s slower than every country in Europe except Turkey, although Italy slumps along at the same speed as us.

However, Akamai ranks New Zealand well ahead of every listed country in Latin and South America.

Asia-Pacific shows an entirely different picture. New Zealand’s average connection speeds are behind places like Japan and South Korea, but in front of China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia – all arguably third world countries.

Akamai says we’re faster than almost all third world states

Running through Akamai’s list, almost none of the obviously third world countries and most of what were once seen as the second world countries have higher speeds than NZ. The debatable case is Hong Kong which has an average of 10.9 Mbps, but that’s an almost entirely urban population – so maybe not a direct comparison.

Overall, the global average connection speed is 3.1 Mbps. We’re well ahead of that.

To put things in perspective, our 4.4 Mbps is not too far from Australia’s 4.9 Mbps. Hardly the third world.

And Akamai underestimates NZ speed anyway

TrueNet, a company that measures New Zealand internet speeds, argues the Akamai numbers for this country fall well short of reality. For the quarter before the latest, Akamai rated NZ speeds at 4.2 Mbps.

According to TrueNet, the average download speed during that period was around 10 Mbps.

Speedtest says NZ is faster than all third world nations

Akamai’s figures may not be to your taste. Speedtest puts New Zealand at position 44 of 186 countries. Speedtest rates our average download speed at a far more respectable 15.61 Mbps.

NZ is one place ahead of the very-clearly-not-third-world Channel Island state of Jersey.  Significantly Speedtest also places New Zealand six places ahead of Australia on a relatively sluggish 13.57 Mbps.

There are relatively poor countries ahead of New Zealand in the Speedtest list: Georgia and Moldavia, but nothing above us that is clearly third world. Admittedly we are only four places ahead of China and just five ahead of Kazakstan. 

New Zealand near the top of market penetration ranking

Speed may not be everything. How does New Zealand rate with the third world in terms of Internet penetration? According to the figures shown at Wikipedia, we are in tenth place with 89.5 percent of the population connected.

Just for the record we are well out in front of Australia, which ranks at 25. Kim Dotcom’s home country, Germany is 22. The United States is at 28.

Also off the third world map, the OECD, effectively a club for rich countries, ranks us at 16 in the list of 34 wealthy countries.

Globally competitive

So by any measure New Zealand’s broadband performance not only puts our nation squarely in the global top rank, but on most measures we seem to punch above our weight. Two other possible bones of contention are the price New Zealanders pay for broadband access and our relatively low data caps.

Our prices are not substantially out of whack with international internet costs. Taking exchange rates and our higher GST into account, New Zealanders pay similar prices to Australians. Sure, you can find examples of deals that are far better than any in New Zealand, but often there are hidden gotchas.

Data caps are a weakness

We are behind the curve on data caps, but again, not massively. You often find uncapped plans overseas, but these may come with strings attached. In 2011 Colin Jackson prepared an InternetNZ discussion document on the subject. Since then caps have increased substantially and there are uncapped plans.

There are still grounds to whinge about data caps, but to describe them as ‘third world’ is pushing it. Again some perspective is called for.

Data caps are a big deal in Canada, which is not only not a third world country, but is directly next to the US – limited connectivity between NZ and the US is often given as a reason why we have data caps.

And we got through all of this without mentioning the elephant in the room. New Zealand is part way through building a fibre-to-the-home network that is as good as you’ll find anywhere. The UFB project and the RBI build outside of the towns will substantially boost average speeds pushing the New Zealand further up those performance lists.

Our internet services may not be perfect. More data would be nice thank you. And consumers are right to be critical of what is on offer, but to describe New Zealand’s internet as third world is an exaggeration.

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