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$15m rural broadband package misses mark

A WIZWireless worker installs a mast on a rural Wairarapa property. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Better rural connectivity needed

ARTHUR HAWKES
[email protected]

A new $15 million stimulus package, geared towards continued expansion and improvement of broadband in rural areas, was announced by the government on Wednesday.

But the package does not answer the prayers of Wairarapa people who need a connectivity boost most.

The government’s Rural Broadband Initiative is split into two parts, RBI1 and RBI2.

It is understood the money announced on Wednesday is going to RBI1, rather than RBI2.

RBI2 deals more with rural and remote properties, which has led some to question why only RBI1, which is operated by Vodafone and Chorus and focuses more on rural towns as well as cellular connectivity, has received exclusive rights to this funding boost.

Hamish Wilson lives with his wife in a rural property in the Gladstone area.

After several years with satellite internet, which was virtually unusable for bandwidth-heavy tasks, they chipped in for a wireless radio mast, along with two neighbouring households, from the rural telecommunications company WIZwireless, which is based in Wairarapa.

“All told, it probably cost us around $4000,” Wilson said.

“The mast was $1000 and I reckon we all chipped in an extra $500 each for everything else.

“The mast has absolutely done the job. If the government’s got money to put into Wairarapa’s internet, they should point it straight at WIZWireless.

“We’re so happy that we don’t mind the fact we had to pay. It just does the job.

“But obviously, not everyone can afford to fork out that kind of money. This is where the government should channel the money.”

WIZWireless was started by Bridget Canning and her husband, who are farmers in Tinui.

“We wanted some decent internet at home, so we got together a team of people and built our first few radio towers, to be able to get it out here to the farm,” Canning said.

“Now we’ve got something like 74 sites, all around Wairarapa, from down at Lake Ferry, all the way up to the Waihoki Valley.

“We see that rural broadband is absolutely fundamental to the economy in Wairarapa, but also from the social point of view: to give people the choice to be able to work from home.

“We’ve got many, many who work from home in Wairarapa, and the speeds and data that we provide for people give them the ability to do that.

“We are part of the government’s RBI2 initiative, but the money that they announced earlier was for RBI1, which is predominantly operated by Vodafone and Chorus.”

It is thought that the lockdown has put increasing demand on towers’ capacity.

Upgraded capacity and external antennae will mean that towers that are at or near capacity [and cannot service any new customers] will be able to provide service to more households already inside their coverage area.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president William Beetham said there was “no question” that connectivity and broadband were critical “not just for the primary sector, but for the whole of rural New Zealand”.

“It’s so difficult sometimes for us to do business, and considering how much of the economy is dependent on the primary sector, it makes absolute sense to give better connectivity to rural areas.”

1 COMMENT

  1. WIZwhiteless is fantastic. We put it into our remote valley off the White Rock road three months ago. Such good wifi and service. It’s been great for the lockdown for three people working from home.

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