Dannevirke: Rural people desperate to connect

By Christine McKay

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Communications Minister Amy Adams has announced the end of Chorus' role in the copper broadband project.
Communications Minister Amy Adams has announced the end of Chorus' role in the copper broadband project.

While Communications Minister Amy Adams marked the completion of Chorus' role under the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), last week, saying the build would transform rural communities, many in the Tararua are asking "what about us?"

"The investment in the Cabinet RBI programme means around 110,000 rural households and businesses across New Zealand now have access to improved copper broadband thanks to the RBI programme," Ms Adams said.

"This work has significant benefits for regional New Zealand. It's now up to each community to make the most of this increased connectivity."

But for many Tararua families and businesses, the lack of connectivity is an ongoing issue which could be a matter of life and death. "The lack of connectivity going forward needs to be a priority and we certainly need to keep momentum on the issue as I imagine internet connection and cellphone coverage will be questions on a purchaser's list for real estate, alongside a LIM report," Tararua district councillor and mayoral candidate Tracey Collis told the Dannevirke News.

"The lack of broadband is affecting our heartland, education and business."

However, Mrs Collis said solutions could lie in new technology, and Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott believes wireless and satellite operators are going to be the solution.

"A bunch of technology is only getting cheaper and faster, but a lot of people out there don't know there are alternatives."

For Rosie Kiihfus who, with her husband, farms on hill country under the Tararua Ranges south of Makomako, secure cellphone connections could be a lifesaver for her 6-year-old son who was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

"Our cell coverage is patchy at best," she said. "Sometimes we can get one bar, or three at the most and around the farm it can be nothing. But we want our son to be able to use the latest technology, a continuous glucose monitor attached to his stomach, with a glucose sensor inserted under his skin to measure levels in tissue fluid.

"But he's going to need cellphone coverage to receive texts about his blood sugar levels. He just loves farming so in the future he will want to be farming here, but without reliable coverage maybe one day he could go into shock with low blood sugar, without that vital cell technology."

Tararua District Mayor Roly Ellis said Inspire Net has been a solution for many in our district, but there were restrictions.

"It's got to be line of sight and it doesn't bounce down some of these valleys."

And the lack of connectivity is adding to the stresses of former Dannevirke dairy farmers Lisa and Brent Lyons.

In June last year, they purchased a dairy farm in southern Tararua and were assured there were internet portals in both homes on the property.

"I'd confirmed it with Spark, but, when we got there and found no internet, I rang again and was told those portals had gone to someone else," Lisa said.

Six months later, Spark sent the Lyons a modem but, when it was plugged in, there was still no access. "I was told it had been a mistake and to return it," a frustrated Lisa said. "We're very, very lucky we do have good Spark and cellphone coverage, but we can only access 10 gigabytes of internet that way. I've had to pull out of my Massey University course because it was incredibly difficult trying to connect and with just the 10 gigs, I have to ration our use. We need the internet for all our farm stuff and, with tough financial times, we need to be monitoring and supplying information to our bank manager all the time.

"Along with the downturn in the dairy payout, it's very, very trying times for us. You simply can't run a business these days without the internet.

"It's so stressful, because the bank manager asks for more budgeting information and, of course, we need the internet."

The Lyons' three boys board at Palmerston North Boys' High School, with much of their work stored on the internet.

"It's really hard for them to come home. They can't access the internet as they'd like," Lisa said. "And I have to save some of our precious 10 gigs for when it's time to pay the bills. This shouldn't happen in today's environment. And our access is so expensive too, it's hellish."

Late last week, Lisa was sitting at her computer, hoping and waiting for access promised.

"It's like giving a lollipop to a child, then grabbing it back and being told you can't have it yet."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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