Dannevirke: Major users back cellphone tower bid

By Christine McKay

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Jim Crispin (left), of the Dannevirke connectivity group, with Grant Wright, from Spark, at a meeting in Dannevirke last week to discuss options for cell coverage. Photo / Christine McKay
Jim Crispin (left), of the Dannevirke connectivity group, with Grant Wright, from Spark, at a meeting in Dannevirke last week to discuss options for cell coverage. Photo / Christine McKay

Dannevirke's connectivity group is likely to have more success in its bid to have cellphone towers built in our rural areas than many people think, group leader Jim Crispin says.

"It's time to get our mobile coverage sorted and we've got to have enough gumption and horsepower to push our bid with the Government. We've police, rural fire and St John Ambulance service supporting us," Mr Crispin said at a meeting with Spark in Dannevirke last week.

The connectivity group is pushing for reliable cellphone coverage across our rural hinterland and met Grant Wright from Spark in the first of two meetings with providers. A second meeting is to be held with Vodafone.

Mr Wright is Dannevirke born and bred and his parents farmed east of the town for 40 years. "I know the area very well as I worked in a shearing gang at Weber."

He is responsible for Spark's mobile network planning and optimisation for an area from North Taranaki, to Turoa to Ruatoria and everywhere south.

"For the past 16 years I've put a lot of work in, but I've no mandate to promise a tower for you."

However, Mr Wright supported the group's business plan to obtain funding from the Government's latest RBI (Rural Broadband Initiative) for an initial cell tower on Oporae Range east of Dannevirke.

The Government's RBI phase two will see an additional $150 million committed to improving broadband in rural areas and extending mobile coverage to black spots on main highways and tourist destinations.

"Connectivity is a necessity. It's an essential part of New Zealand's growing economic and social infrastructure and even more integral for our rural communities. RBI has delivered enormous gains for our remote and rural communities, and I encourage New Zealanders to get on board," Communications Minister Amy Adams said.

Now the Dannevirke connectivity group is determined to try to access some of the second phase of funding for the Oporae Range tower.

For Kay McKenzie, who began the petition for a cell tower on Oporae Range, success is the only option.

"We won't be fobbed off, we'll just have to apply the pressure," she said.

And group member Tim Delaney said the reality would be the Government was going to be looking to the big black spots to put money into coverage.

"When you look at a map of our rural area there won't be any other black spots this big. With our two proposed cell towers [Oporae Range and at Te Uri], the coverage would be significant. This would be a big deal and it makes sense. It's a rational approach and it's hard to argue with reason."

Mr Crispin agreed.

"Tim and I are going to light a fire under the Government. There are a lot of young couples out on farms in this area and with very educated wives who can't run the businesses they want or even educate their children without coverage. We want to improve the lives of everyone in those rural areas."

Brendan Tippett runs a contracting business at Waitahora, Pongaroa and out to the East Coast and told last week's meeting that coverage is vital.

"Weber Rd is the access point for police, contractors, tourists, as well as the people who live there and we need coverage," he said.

Farmer George Taylor told the Dannevirke News, coverage at his property was "zero".

"Coverage is very important when you've people working for you and if you try and recruit staff."

Developing the right business plan will be at the heart of the group's project, said Peter Wimsett, Tararua District Council's manager of strategy and district development.

"We have to pitch our business case right and hopefully our local MP can help," he said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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