A new remote users scheme will be created out of funding from this year’s budget to provide broadband services in some of the country’s most remote locations.
These locations have no coverage or only have voice calling and text messaging services.
The scheme will provide a variety of means to deliver connectivity to the user’s main site of residence, Minister of Digital Economy and Communications David Clark said at the TUANZ Rural Connectivity Symposium in Hamilton.
“Work is underway to finalise the details of this new scheme and it is my intention to launch the remote users scheme later this year,” he said.
The scheme will cost $15 million and will come out of the $60m allocated by the Government to improve rural connectivity in New Zealand.
Around $43m of that funding will also be used to improve network capacity and speed.
This includes, but is not limited to, settlements in the Far North, Gisborne, Manawatū-Whanganui region, Taranaki, Southland and Waikato.
When combined with rural capacity upgrades announced in February, the Government has allocated over $90m towards upgrading the capacity of rural networks, to be rolled out over the next three years, he said.
“This new funding also includes provision for an additional $2m to be spent on extending the successful Marae Digital Connectivity initiative for up to two years. The additional funding will allow for more eligible marae to benefit,” he said.
“It’s a different world that we live in now and we must take advantage of the technologies that are there and I think it’s critical for us in continuing to generate high wealth out of our rural communities in terms of export dollars.”David Clark
Minister of Digital Economy and Communications
“More than 560 marae have been connected through this initiative so far, with most of them located in rural areas, serving as hubs for their communities, Clark said.
This along with the remote users scheme will also improve rural digital equality, he said.
The funding should be seen as part of a suit of Government initiatives to ensure New Zealand was one of the most digitally capable countries in the world.
Clark said the Government ultimately wants to get rural connectivity to be as good the services in cities.
Agriculture was a key export earner for New Zealand where it had a global advantage, and improving connectivity builds on that, he said.
“It’s a different world that we live in now and we must take advantage of the technologies that are there and I think it’s critical for us in continuing to generate high wealth out of our rural communities in terms of export dollars.”
The Government was aware of the needs to improve connectivity in rural communities.
Last year’s KPMG Agribusiness Agenda report ranked fast accessible broadband third highest in priority behind biosecurity and trade agreements, he said.
It is why over the past 10 years, up to and including this year’s budget, Government funding has doubled on per head of population basis compared to those living in urban areas.
Its high cost was no surprise because of the difficulties in reaching people in remote areas, but that was not an excuse to leave rural communities behind.
The Government was working towards having 99.8% of the population able to access faster broadband by the end of next year and good progress was being made in reaching that goal, he said.
“The progress so far has seen about 73,000 rural households and businesses benefitting from Rural Broadband [phase] Two (RBI2).”
The rollout of the mobile blackspot fund has seen over 1000 kilometres of rural highways have been given mobile coverage and the rural connectivity group has built 310 mobile towers throughout the country, he said.
Clark also did not rule out extending the country’s fibre rollout programme, which was scheduled to end next year to rural areas, saying it came down to what was best value for money.
“We will always be weighing up what is best in terms of getting bang for your buck,” he said.