Saturday, December 2, 2023

Rural households to get broadband boost

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Government signs contracts that will in time bring better connections to rural communities.
This latest connectivity upgrade from the government should benefit about 30,000 rural households.
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About 30,000 households and businesses in rural communities will be receiving better broadband connections after new contracts were signed between the government and Crown Infrastructure partners.

These contracts will accelerate upgrades to towers and broadband connections in areas with poor coverage, Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor and Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications Dr David Clark said at Fieldays.

“This round of the rural capacity upgrade will see many existing towers upgraded and new connections established in rural areas experiencing poor performance,” Clark said.

Areas that will benefit include settlements in the Far North, Gisborne, Manawatū-Whanganui region, Taranaki, Southland and Waikato. 

“However, the programme is by no means limited to these areas,” he said.

“This will significantly improve current homes and businesses and boost economic productivity of those with a slow unreliable and sometimes unusable connection.”

Better connectivity adds real value because it allows the rural sector to better tell its story as well as improving services for rural health, he said.

“When I look at Federated Farmers surveys, connectivity is right up there for the blokes and it’s always number one for women,” Clark said.

“We need to rural-proof our connectivity and make sure that our leading export sector is well provided for when it comes to connectivity and selling our products to the world.”

He said he expects the contracts to be rolled out over the next few years.

The announcement coincided with the release of the government’s new strategy document, “Lifting connectivity in Aotearoa”, which sets out a high-level connectivity vision for New Zealand over the next decade. 

This includes the goal that all New Zealanders have access to high-speed connectivity networks by 2032 and that NZ is in the top 20% of nations in respect to international connectivity measures.

“With more and more businesses online, more people working from home, and access to many health services, the opportunity for greater economic growth is there and should be embraced – but we need to make sure they’re there for everybody,” Clark said. 

“As government supports farmers to grow our exports, reduce emissions and maintain our international competitive edge into the future, making sure farms are hooked up with reliable connectivity is crucial.

“We’ve always been world-leading when it comes to farming innovation. It was a New Zealander that invented the electric fence, and Kiwis are leading the charge on what comes next. As digital technologies continue to evolve, we need to ensure, our farmers and their farming practices are well supported to evolve alongside it,” Clark said.

Federated Farmers board member Richard McIntyre called the 2023 goal ambitious but admirable.

“While it’s going to take a lot more investment on top of the money already announced, we applaud the commitments made to longer-term rural connectivity solutions,” he said.

The document also won the support of  Tech Users Association of NZ chief executive Craig Young.

The past two years of pandemic disruptions have highlighted the importance of high-quality connectivity when it comes to how we work, learn, do business and socialise remotely, he said.

“We’ve been proposing a 10-year plan for some time now, so it’s great to see this is now in place with some clear objectives and principles on how the government aims to meet these.”

Young said the document’s statement of intent sets out some good ambitions and “we’ll make sure we hold the government and industry to account”.

O’Connor said it will also help relieve some of the pressure farmers are facing.

“Some people are feeling isolated, they should never feel isolated. Some of it is geographical isolation but with technology now, people should be able to connect with someone to share some of the stress and to move on,” he said. 

The investment sits alongside Land Information NZ’s roll-out of the Southern Positioning Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) service, which will greatly improve the availability and accuracy of positioning, taking it from 5-10m to as little as 10cm across the country.

O’Connor said this will boost rural productivity through precision agriculture and horticulture and fenceless farming, and improve the safety of search rescue in the back country.