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Collaboration key in delivering rural broadband

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 21 August 2018, 11:04 am

Where to now for rural broadband? That was the question for those attending the 2018 TUANZ Rural Connectivity Symposium in June. The organisation has just released a report of the event, which shows rural communities continue to face many of the same issues that have been prevalent for a decade.

Feedback from participants at the front of the report show that, unsurprisingly, access to connectivity is top of mind. Comments include: "it isn't easy to connect (even when near fibre-connected schools)", "uptake isn't high enough and cost is in the way", and - perhaps most pressingly - "The Rugby World Cup will drive demand - rural community must not miss the rugby." That last point is a reference to the fact that the broadcasting rights for 2019 World Cup have being awarded to Spark.

The good news is that the report also contains plenty of examples about how rural connectivity is being improved.

Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) Programme Director Andrew Button discussed the next phase of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI2). The RCG (a partnership between Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees) won the bulk of the contract to deliver RBI2, and will provide mobile coverage and connectivity to 100 tourist locations, 34,000 homes, 1000km of State Highways and the Chatham Islands.

"I will beg, borrow, steal - partner with anybody and everybody that can make my dollar go further and mean that I can build one more site; build one more rural location that's going to provide value to one more community, one more group of under-served people," he told the conference.

In addition to the RCG, members of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) are becoming a formidable force in rural connectivity. Its 23 members have a combined customer base of 40,000 across 800 sites, and nine WISPs are also involved in the RBI2 programme.

The importance of collaboration was reinforced in an example provided in the coverage of Robyn Kamira's presentation. She explained how the far North community of Miti Miti became the first site in New Zealand to access RBI fibre through a project called "Miti Miti on the Grid".

"This saw the collaboration of sponsors, funders, technical experts, volunteers and community members who worked together to leverage fibre deployed to Miti Miti's local school to connect the local marae. The project, also undertaken with support from Maori TV programme Marae DIY, enabled both the marae and the surrounding area to have fast speed internet, cell phone coverage, and wifi. Previously, the only connectivity available to Miti Miti was sporadic cell phone coverage - which was only access from the beach, and only at low tide."

Collaboration is also one of the themes that TUANZ CEO Craig Young says has emerged from the event:

"This year the three key messages that came through from the presentation as well as the input of participants on that day were:

  1. Everyone has a right to connectivity, regardless of geography or social status, how do we make it so?
  2. Technology, such as IoT, is here to stay and innovation is happening all the time, how can it be used to improve your rural lifestyle?
  3. Collaboration is key. Engage with Government and provide ideas and solutions for what rural NZ needs.  To get connected they need to hear from you."

You can read the full report here.



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