Locals split on better mobile coverage

By Lindy Laird

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People at Matapouri Bay and surrounding areas are about to get better access to smart phone and other mobile networks. Photo / APN
People at Matapouri Bay and surrounding areas are about to get better access to smart phone and other mobile networks. Photo / APN

Having better cellphone coverage at Matapouri Bay from next week is good news for many locals although some are dreading the cacophony of ring tones that might now become a feature of local beaches.

Telecom has invested over $175,000 on the Matapouri Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) to bring improved mobile coverage and capacity to the settlement and surrounding area. The tower has been erected and construction is continuing, with the switch-on planned for next Tuesday.

Vodafone already has two towers in the area; at Tutukaka and Matapouri.

One local businessman, who said he already has adequate broadband service, called the improvement a "god send".

Ian Coulton, who runs an international freight and household moving service from his Matapouri home, said poor reception made dealing with international clients and time zones a nightmare.

"It will make a huge difference to us as a business and family. We can only get one bar in the upstairs bedroom at the moment," Mr Coulton said. "It drives my 16-year old daughter mad."

Mr Coulton said concerns had been raised at recent community meetings about the public safety aspect of the bad coverage. There had been several incidents in the past where mobiles had proved useless in emergencies, he said.

Another local person said her outdoor business suffered because of the poor coverage, especially as much of its client base was from outside the district. A landline message gave callers two cellphone options, but there were many pockets on the property where those phones didn't work, she said.

Tutukaka Coast real estate agent Peter Vink said one of the first things potential buyers ask is whether there is decent mobile reception in the area. The phone coverage along the coast had been "patchy" for years, but Mr Vink was reluctant to say if it had been a deal breaker in some business people's decision about moving to the area.

Although good service was vital for home-based businesses, communities were also increasingly reliant on it, he said.

"A lot of people just need that instant communication for whatever reason. It might be health or business or family reasons. People get used to having technology at their fingertips and, overall, this improvement will be beneficial to the community."

Meanwhile, longtime Matapouri resident Elizabeth Fuge said that although she kept a cellphone in her car as an emergency measure, she was not looking forward to seeing cellphones everywhere.

"They're going to sit on the beach with the damn things and they'll just be a nuisance," she said.

Telecom, on the other hand, is promising that better access to voice, text and mobile network services will enhance people's enjoyment of beaches such as Matapouri and Whale Bay. Head of Public Affairs, Conor Roberts said the RBI investment "will ensure those who live, work and visit [the area] for its stunning scenery and recreational fishing are able to make the most of what the Telecom network can offer".

- Northern Advocate

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