Hotspots help to bridge digital divide in Northland

By Sophie Ryan

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WI-FI CHANGES: Simon Moutter, Telecom chief executive, was in Whangarei on Wednesday. PHOTO/FILE
WI-FI CHANGES: Simon Moutter, Telecom chief executive, was in Whangarei on Wednesday. PHOTO/FILE

FREE Wi-Fi hotspots are bridging the digital divide, but more needs to be done to connect all of Northland to telecommunications, says Telecom chief executive Simon Moutter.

Mr Moutter was in Whangarei to meet the 30 to 40 staff members working in the town for the telecommunications giant.

The success of Telecom's beach-side holiday Wi-Fi hotspots last summer brought about a switch to permanent Wi-Fi hotspots.

"Last summer we had 150 across the country, now there are 800," Mr Moutter said.

Popular holiday locations including Paihia, Mangonui, Waipu Cove, Coopers Beach and Cable Bay were part of the holiday hotspot Wi-Fi launch last December, and are now permanently delivering free wireless internet.

Telecom converted existing telephone boxes to deliver free wireless internet.

"In some places you could see two dozen people clustered around the phone box using their devices," he said.

"Most of those would be tourists, so it's huge for tourism. They'll be communicating back home and sharing pictures and stories, it's a real boom."

Mobile users with a Telecom plan can access one gigabyte of data a day for free.

There are seven free Telecom Wi-Fi locations in the Whangarei district, one in Dargaville, three in Hikurangi, five in the Bay of Islands, two in Kerikeri, four in Doubtless Bay and four in Kaitaia.

Mr Moutter said difficult terrain and sparsely populated areas made connectivity a challenge for Northland.

"It is very difficult to [get the whole region connected] and to get it to work."

The gap between people who have access to the internet and those without is known as the digital divide.

Mr Moutter said the digital divide was acutely felt in Northland.

Wi-Fi hotspots were a way of bridging the digital divide, Mr Moutter said.

Despite the divide, six Telecom communication sites throughout the region have doubled in capacity, as a result of more people using their broadband and cellphone services.

Houses with internet access in Northland increased from 26,433 in 2006 to 36,855 this year, the Census showed.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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