West Otago leaders are hopeful remaining cellphone blackspots may soon disappear from the district.
Mobile phone blackspots affecting more remote parts of the rural district, whose towns include Tapanui and Heriot, have been a longstanding concern for emergency services in the area.
The issue has been a ‘‘work in progress’’ item on the West Otago Community Board agenda for the past three years.
Board chairwoman Barbara Hanna said news a long›planned booster tower installation, at Raes Junction north of Tapanui, would be under way next week was ‘‘encouraging’’.
‘‘We’ve been pursuing improvement to cellphone coverage for several years now and, although steps have been taken, it hasn’t been fully resolved.
‘‘We’re quite optimistic this [installation] could bring things up to scratch for the district.’’
Recent news of a further $47 million government boost to rural capacity would not affect cellphone coverage, however.
The ‘‘rural capacity upgrade’’ was unveiled by Digital Economy and Communications Minister David Clark.
Although it would involve existing cell towers being upgraded and new towers built in rural areas experiencing poor performance, project manager Crown Infrastructure Partners said it was intended to improve broadband only.
Dr Clark said about 47,000 rural households and businesses should experience faster internet speeds and better reception by the end of 2024.
‘‘The Covid›19 pandemic has shown us reliable internet is critical to being able to work, learn and socialise from our homes. Having been through lockdowns, it’s clear some rural networks had real trouble adapting to the extra usage.’’
As part of the initiative, 13 private›sector contractors, including Unifone in Balclutha, have signed contracts with Crown Infrastructure Partners to carry out the work.
The programme will be funded from the Government’s Covid›19 response and recovery fund.
A Crown Infrastructure Partners spokeswoman was unable to say how much of the $47 million was earmarked for South and West Otago.
Blackspots such as the Raes Junction area were already being addressed by alternative funding pools.
‘‘Mobile blackspots are covered under the mobile blackspots fund programme [MBSF]. The MBSF programme has new towers live already in Waikaka, Arthurton, Wharetoa, and Waikana.
She said the Raes Junction tower was intended to improve highway coverage.