Rural upgrade greeted with ‘relief’

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Welcome news . . . The Rural Capacity Upgrade will involve existing cell towers being upgraded and new towers built in rural areas experiencing poor performance. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The announcement of a big push to upgrade capacity on congested rural broadband networks has been given the thumbs up by federated farmers.

The $47 million ‘‘Rural Capacity Upgrade’’ was unveiled last week by Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, David Clark.

Federated Farmers NZ president and telecommunications spokesman Andrew Hoggard said his organisation surveyed its members on broadband and cellphone coverage in rural areas each year, to gather data on the worst blackspots and inform its advocacy to Government.

‘‘The frustration of farming families whose businesses, distance education and everyday activities are hampered by poor or sometimes non›existent services comes through loud and clear.

‘‘So news that upgrades to existing cell towers and construction of new towers should see 47,000 rural households and businesses experience faster internet speeds and better reception by the end of 2024 will come as a relief.’’

The Rural Capacity Upgrade will involve existing cell towers being upgraded and new towers built in rural areas experiencing poor performance, as well as fibre, additional VDSL coverage and other wireless technology deployed in congested areas.

“By the end of 2024, around 47,000 rural households and businesses should experience faster internet speeds and better reception than they do right now,” Mr Clark said.

“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 with the $47 million from the Government’s Covid Response and Recovery Fund.

“[This funding] will further help us secure our economic recovery,’’ Mr Clark said.

“With these upgrades, rural businesses will have the tools to be more innovative and productive. We can also improve health and safety for New Zealanders and their families through remote health consultations, facilitate remote learning and help maintain social and family connections.

“For those businesses, farms, marae and households that aren’t captured by current rural broadband initiatives, such as the Ultra›Fast Broadband programme, the initiative will be of great benefit.’’

Mr Hoggard said agricultural production, and meeting ‘‘swathes’’ of new governmental regulations and requirements on freshwater protection, greenhouse gas emissions and more, increasingly relied on fast and reliable internet connectivity.

‘‘As the Government has acknowledged, Covid restrictions — with more remote health consultations, remote learning and maintaining family connections — has added new layers of demand.

‘‘The Rural Capacity Upgrade will help, so kudos to the Government.’’

At the completion of all current connectivity initiatives in 2024, 99.8% of New Zealanders will have seen an improvement to their broadband services.

› By the end of 2024, around 47,000 rural households and businesses should experience faster internet speeds and better reception than they do right now. ›