Dannevirke: Cellphone black spot areas targeted

By Christine McKay

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Peter Wimsett, left, the Tararua District Council's manager of strategy and district development, and Dannevirke farmer and cell tower campaigner Kay McKenzie. Photo / Christine McKay
Peter Wimsett, left, the Tararua District Council's manager of strategy and district development, and Dannevirke farmer and cell tower campaigner Kay McKenzie. Photo / Christine McKay

Dannevirke's Jim Crispin is determined to see cellphone access for everyone in Tararua and two major players, Spark and Vodafone, are being asked to visit the district to help provide local solutions.

"Our rural areas absolutely need access and we have to make a start," Mr Crispin, a rural real estate consultant and Tararua District councillor, said.

"When I'm out in the country on business, I see Oporae Range (east of Dannevirke) from so many vantage points and realise the coverage from a cell tower up there would be colossal. The signal would boom out."

The group which has set itself the job of getting people in Tararua connected is approaching those it believes could be the best options for coverage, but Mr Crispin is making sure every possible avenue is investigated.

But Tim Delaney, Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott's representative in the district, believes the issue will always be cost.

"There will never be full mobile coverage and New Zealand has huge areas which don't have cellphone coverage. It even drops out around here on State Highway 2," he said.

"However, satellite coverage is progressing in leaps and bounds and my hunch is if we want a tower on Oporae Range we're looking out five years."

The only way forward Mr Delaney believes is through local solutions.

"It's better to get local people solving problems because we are the ones who can make it happen."

But Peter Wimsett, the district council's manager of strategy and district development, said Mr Delaney's time-frame is out and he believes the tower could be in place in two years.

"Money on the table will help," he said.

One solution discussed by the connectivity group was a remote connection device from Wright Satellite Connections, which directs cellphone signals through a satellite.

"If you really need mobile coverage purchasing one of these could be an option," Mr Wimsett said.

And Mr Crispin was initially very enthusiastic.

"This could be a temporary solution which someone like me could carry in the car. I could use it all around the district and I could get value from my investment," he said.

But while the device retails at $1300, plus GST, on top of the cost of your cellphone, it's the $1 a minute calling charge which will mean it's a no-go for most, Mr Crispin admitted.

Kay McKenzie, who farms near Oporae Range, is keen to move the project forward.

"Cell coverage is essential for the economy of our region and health and safety. I can get one or two bars of coverage directly outside my house when I'm in a direct line of sight of the Whariti tower at Woodville, but that's it.

"If we aren't driving this it's not going to happen."

Mr Wimsett said Communications Minister Amy Adams is being "hassled" by council about the $50 million to improve coverage in black spot areas along main highways and in tourist destinations.

Local authorities have been invited to identify the priorities and ways they can support better connectivity in their areas.

"It's just a matter of time," he said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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