With the COVID-19 lockdown placing even greater emphasis on the need for reliable internet networks, a former All Black is working to keep New Zealand’s rural folk connected.
RWNZ president Fiona Gower says the news that the Government plans to extend rural broadband and mobile coverage to 99% of the population is good, but even more is needed.
She says rural communities need geographic coverage and only about 50% of NZ’s geography is covered and that is where rural families live and work.
“It is 99% of the population, but there’s a lot of geography in NZ that won’t be covered,” Gower told Rural News.
“There will be pockets of the population that won’t be covered and we are looking at things like health and safety and business.
“Few New Zealanders [will be] left without it, but we are concerned to make sure that [the new] coverage is affordable for NZers and that no rural areas will lack coverage.”
She believes it is a health and safety, and an economic issue.
“Out onfarm or on roads between properties there are areas where there is no cellphone coverage. If there is an accident or an incident and you have to get emergency services, where do you have to go to get that coverage?” Gower adds.
“It is great having broadband, but the whole connectivity passage is important. We have talked to Government a lot about this and were involved in the Rural Broadband Initiative 2 process.”
She says RWNZ is pleased the wireless internet service providers (WISPS) are getting a look in.
“They are the ones that can get the coverage out into the wider community because they are a lot more agile in getting infrastructure out into the rural remote areas than the big telcos.”
RWNZ to keep them honest
RWNZ aims to keep up the pressure.
“We will be keeping [the Government] to task to make sure it does happen... for education for our children, the economic benefit of having broadband for farmers, everything for real-time farming,” Gower told Rural News.
She says it is important for ensuring the health and safety of all people living rurally.
“If you have an accident on the farm, how can we ring to get help? And if you are at the back of the farm trying to get information? We all talk about what you can download on your smartphone these days [but] if you haven’t got that connectivity to get that information it is frustrating.”
Gower has promised the RWNZ will be keeping the pressure on.
“We are excited this is happening. We realise that technology is upgrading all the time. It is getting better and cheaper every time something is done. So let’s make sure it does happen. And it would be nice if it even happened sooner than 2022.”
She says if rural people in remote areas can access tele-health they won’t have to travel long distances to appointments to talk to a specialist, a doctor or a counsellor.
“They are not having to give up their time at work… that is a huge bonus in getting extra connectivity out there. All those opportunities for rural that we haven’t had up to now. We have had to down tools and drive to town because we haven’t had the access.”
Affordability is also important, says Gower.
She believes the announced expansion of the mobile black spots fund will be very helpful.
“There are some areas unavailable at the moment that will be covered. Many rural communities will get access through being a mobile black spot.”