Saturday, April 13, 2024

Broadband money ‘just a drop’

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A $15 million fund for ultra-fast broadband in rural areas is not enough to improve the technology for farmers. “It’s a drop in the bucket,” Technology Users Association chief executive Craig Young said.
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The Government money will upgrade some existing mobile towers and wireless backhaul that connects remote sites and for the installation of external antennae on houses to improve coverage.

“We know from talking with our rural partners that many suffer under significant constraints and that there still remain gaps between rural households’ experience and urban New Zealanders.”

Thas is worse in lockdown when children are staying home.

“This investment will go some way to ensuring that some of those constraints are fixed.”

The association has been calling for extra funding for some time, he said.

Common issues for the sector include gaps in coverage or instances where the coverage has gone backwards because of the load on the network.

The money will mean a substantial upgrade to broadband services in many rural places that have an internet standard city people would not tolerate, he said.

“We’re realistic. We are not calling for fibre for every farm in NZ. We are calling for a similar experience no matter how that’s delivered.

“We have some really good capability in rural NZ now. What we have to ensure is that it is kept up to date.”

That could be done by upgrading some areas from 3G to 5G broadband capability.

Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard said its surveys show some big rural areas still have slow or no internet access.

“The vast majority of New Zealanders living in towns and cities have absolutely no idea how bad internet access still is in some parts of the country.”

Hoggard said there is a strong link between rural productivity and internet connectivity.

“If you are looking for a shovel-ready project this would be a good one. The shovels are already in the ground.

“It is good the Government is looking for ways to continue to grow rural businesses with better technology, especially given the post-covid-19 world we will be living in so, hopefully, this is just the start of a thoughtful approach to building rural business and community resilience.”

Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government aims to provide internet access to about 99.8% of New Zealanders.

“However, while that work continues some households in isolated regions require reliable access to broadband services in light of covid-19 – particularly households with school-age children who need internet access for remote learning. 

“The work brings forward capacity upgrades to meet increased demand for the internet where the urgency is most acute.”

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said the Government is prioritising the upgrade of mobile towers in rural areas where there are high numbers of school-age children living in households that cannot access the internet.

“This will provide school-age students in remote areas with access to the digital connectivity programme that the Government recently rolled out to support distance learning.

“It means that students, particularly those in low-income rural households, can continue with their schooling in exactly the same way as those in urban areas.”

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