Northland gears up for bid to extend high-speed broadband, cellphone coverage

21 May 2015

Northlanders are being asked to provide their ideas and insights to assist the region’s bid for a share of up to $360 million in Government funding to extend high-speed broadband and improve cellphone coverage.

Northland Inc logoRegional economic development agency Northland Inc is co-ordinating a Northland-wide response – on behalf of the region's four councils and in partnership with Maori – to the Government's call for interest in being part of the next stage of the high-speed broadband rollout. This has the objective of bringing broadband to 80 percent of New Zealanders.

In Northland, the funding has the potential to accelerate the delivery of ultrafast broadband to more towns and faster broadband to rural areas, as well as improving mobile coverage along State Highways and in popular tourist areas to reduce 'black spots'.

"The Government is looking for proposals that demonstrate a clearly co-ordinated regional approach, including support from councils and collaboration amongst telecommunications providers," says Northland Inc CEO David Wilson.

"Another key factor is the strength of consumer demand, so one of our first steps is to hear from Northland communities about the ways they could take advantage of better broadband and phone coverage and the benefits it would provide.

"For some, this will mean new business opportunities but we're just as interested in hearing from the Northland residents who might simply be able to carry out more of their everyday lives online if faster broadband is made available."

A brief online survey has been set up at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/fasterbroadband and as many Northlanders as possible are being asked to provide their views. The survey opens on Thursday 21 May and due to the timeframes for the bid, needs to be completed before Wednesday 3 June.

Other avenues are also being used to quantify demand.

Mr Wilson added that the Tai Tokerau Northland Regional Growth Study, launched in February this year, highlighted broadband as an enabler for a range of growth opportunities, providing a platform to add value to primary and other industries in the region.

A digital strategy for Northland, identifying the ways in which the region can leverage the new infrastructure, is under development and due to be completed later this year.

Northland has so far done well from the broadband rollout, with Whangarei becoming New Zealand's first fully-fibred town in New Zealand a year ago, courtesy of local provider Northpower Fibre.

Communications Minister Amy Adams noted in March this year that more than 21,000 businesses and households were able to access the network and ultrafast broadband uptake was running above the national average, with 50 new Whangarei premises being connected to fibre every week.

Announcing the next stage of the broadband rollout in Kerikeri, she added that 96% of state and state-integrated schools in the Northland area now have access to fibre, and rural public hospitals and integrated family health centres will have access to fibre by the end of 2015.

The social benefits of increased connectivity are also of high importance to Maori, with the three main areas of benefit being education, tangihanga participation and management of collective assets such as ahu whenua trusts. Education via e-learning and other computer based programmes are already supplementing teaching resources in isolated communities, while digital connectivity will also allow people in small settlements to make more economic contact with markets for either purchase or sale.

"Better connectivity is critical to building a stronger economy and creating more jobs and higher wages. Fibre will allow communities across New Zealand to take advantage of the opportunities the digital economy offers," says Ms Adams.