27 Aug 2014

Rural broadband pledge 'a little late'

5:03 pm on 27 August 2014

The Rural Women New Zealand organisation has welcomed an election pledge by the National Party to give the rural broadband rollout a boost - but says it is a little late in coming.

The manifesto focuses on 13 areas where it says action is needed to ensure a fair deal for rural communities including broadband.

National has said it would establish a $150 million fund for rural broadband. Photo: PHOTO NZ

If re-elected to power on 20 September, National says it would establish a $150 million fund to extend broadband beyond the more than 230,000 rural households and businesses now connected.

Of that, $100 million would be placed in a contestable fund for communities to improve connections, while $50 million would be used to extend mobile phone coverage in remote areas.

Rural Women executive officer Noeline Holt said she supported the move.

"Anyone or any parties (that's) gonna come up with an offer like that is very welcome by all of rurals for sure - but why didn't they do it sooner?"

"We think there's a lot of people missing out ... it is not just for economic reasons or business, but it's for social connectivity that people need today.

"There's just so much happening on the web that we want everyone to be able to participate."

Ms Holt added that expanding mobile phone coverage could help save a life if someone is injured in a remote area.

"You've got to look at the mobile phone as a safety tool and there is some evidence, I can't recall it right now, that people have died, not because of the injuries, but because of the time it took to get to the person with the injuries because there was no cellphone coverage.

"It's occasional, but you know a life is a life. One life lost due to cellphone coverage is one too many."

Labour calls for fund guarantee

Labour Party ICT spokesperson Clare Curran said National must guarantee the new fund would be truly contestable and not a slush fund for telecommunication companies.

"I've got question marks on how contestable it will be, because the big telcos will of course want to be able to access that fund, and may have more sway in getting access to it," she said.

"We called on the minister yesterday to provide guarantees around contestability and who would be eligible to access that fund."

Ms Curran said broadband connections in rural New Zealand were poor by world standards and said this country needed the best rural broadband possible because of the importance of primary production.

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