A team of Wellington experts in connectivity descended on Dannevirke recently to meet with Connect Tararua's Governance team, Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis and key Tararua District Council and Scanpower management.
Members of the Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) management team agreed to meet with the CT Governance team to discuss a collaborative approach to working through the aspirations of the Tararua District to solve the many areas of digital isolation experienced by its rural residents.
A round-table discussion led by Governance Team Chairman Tim Poulton looked at the many facets involved with ensuring the rural areas of the district are better served with a network that will work for all the hills and valleys of its rugged terrain.
"Desk-top modelling has its place but when it comes to looking at the most suitable sites for towers in rural areas, local knowledge, intense mapping and thorough surveying of the district residents, are the key to ensuring we do this once and do it right," Tim said.
"We have been made aware of what is in the RBI2 rollout for the district and we believe that Connect Tararua can add huge value to the decision-making process based on the intensive surveying, site-mapping and road-mapping with a collaborative approach being the key."
To date over 1900km of the district's roads have been mapped for cell phone coverage by the Connect Tararua team and Tararua Alliance Roading inspectors.
"The distance we've covered equates to driving from Cape Reinga to Bluff," Tim said. "And the results are astounding and certainly give weight to the need for far better connectivity in our district for our health services to be able to operate to their fullest potential, for farmers to be able to make use of the many technologies available via the internet.
One of the most important things is to remove the feeling of digital isolation in a modern world that relies on connectivity for so many things."
With the expertise of Alex Chittock of Tararua Heliworks, the team and visitors flew up to the top of the Friel's hill in Kumeroa, landing on the site to show the RCG team the ruggedness of the terrain.
Alex ferried the team across in three trips to the Africa site, on Tim Poulton's farm.
"Alex looked after us all admirably, we felt very safe in his hands." Tim said. "Viewing the district from these heights gives a whole new perspective of the challenges ahead for connecting Tararua efficiently."
Team Lead Mel Poulton said she believes the key to a successful outcome is for everyone to put their shoulder to the plough and work in a collaborative way to get the best possible results.
"As a team, we have been working on this for 18 months now and the countless volunteer hours that have been put in are immeasurable. The team are very committed and focused on the best outcome for the whole of the district."
Connect Tararua has recently submitted an Expression of Interest to the Provincial Growth Fund for funding of an extensive feasibility study.
"Hours and hours of work went into getting the EOI right and now we have to play the waiting game for the outcome. If we get through this round, then we can go ahead and apply for the funding needed. Without the support of the Tararua District Council and the PGF we would struggle to take this project to the next level" Mel said.
"Tararua District Council has committed five years of on-going funding to connectivity in the district in the Long Term Plan. This is a demonstration of commitment to a better digitally connected district."