Dannevirke farmer Kay McKenzie has had a fantastic response to her petition for a cellphone tower on Oporae Range east of Dannevirke - but frustration levels regarding lack of coverage are continuing to grow throughout the district.

"It's about running our businesses, safety and general communications," she said at the first meeting of a group working to drive coverage forward. "Health and safety issues are huge and cellphone coverage is vital for the growing number of tourists in the Tararua."

Tararua District Councillor, and rural real estate agent, Jim Crispin is determined to make things happen, even if it takes years.

Away from Dannevirke "the whole world is lost" in terms of coverage, he said.

Advertisement

"It's frustrating. Every month people are charged for their mobile phones, but why are we worth less than consumers in other areas?"

Pongaroa farmer and self-employed farm consultant Rachel Joblin travels 1000km a week on rural roads such as Route 52, but with cellphone coverage for just 20 per cent of that distance.

"The lack of cell coverage and broadband is stagnating rural businesses," she said. "Technology is going to provide the next big gains in the sheep and beef industry, but if we are unable to have reliable coverage it'll limit potential and growth will be stifled.

"I see so many other farmers who are in the same boat. The lack of coverage affects efficiency as well as health and safety."

Brendan Tippett runs a contracting business at Waitahora, Pongaroa and out to the East Coast.

"With no cell coverage, the stress and safety concerns are huge for my business and family," he said. "I can't got to sleep until I know my staff are safe and out from a rural job.

"The loss of income and lack of productivity for everyone, shearers, contractors and farmers is unbelievable. We're in an area known as the backblocks of nowhere, people are not contactable. Farmers in these rural areas are struggling to get contractors because they don't want to leave an area of cellphone coverage because it affects their business. And it's affecting property values."

Mr Tippett said it was frustrating to have to leave a productive machine and head to somewhere else to make business calls.

Nathan Davis, senior sergeant of the Tararua Police said people in rural areas are entitled to the same levels of service as everyone else.

"They're paying the same taxes, they're paying the same for cellphones without the coverage and they're trying to run successful businesses.

"From my point-of-view it's about efficient deployment of police and emergency services, police safety and the safety of tourists."

Mr Davis said not all farmers had radios and a lot did not have emergency locator beacons either.

"The area east of Dannevirke is big for recreational hunting too and things can happen to hunters and farmers. Lack of cellphone service is worrying for wives. There is a huge area out there not getting service, it's a big black hole. It's like policing in the 1950s."

Peter Wimsett, Tararua District Council's manager of strategy and district development, believes the degree of influence rural residents in the Tararua have needs to be leveraged quickly.

"The election may be something useful for us," he said.

In a bid to discover what providers are able to offer, the group is co-ordinating a joint approach to encourage them to meet and discuss what they can deliver.

"Unless we drive this nothing will change," Mrs McKenzie said.