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30,000 Rural Communities to Get Improved Connectivity in New Zealand

Around 30,000 rural homes and communities will soon have access to faster and improved connectivity with an expansion of the Rural Capacity Upgrade programme. 21 new contracts have been signed by Crown Infrastructure partners to accelerate upgrades to towers and broadband connections in areas with poor coverage.

The announcement was made by the Minister for Rural Communities, Damien O’Connor, and the Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, David Clark. This round of the Rural Capacity Upgrade will see many existing towers upgraded and new connections established in rural areas experiencing poor performance. Areas that will benefit from these improvements include, but are not limited to, settlements in the Far North, Gisborne, the Manawatu-Whanganui region, Taranaki, Southland, and Waikato.

The project is expected to significantly boost the economic productivity of homes and businesses with a slow, unreliable, or unusable connection, Clark noted. The government is committed to improving rural connectivity and is on track to see 99.8% of New Zealanders receive access to improved broadband because of the Ultra-Fast Broadband rollout, Rural Broadband Initiative, the Marae Digital Connectivity programme, and the Mobile Black Spot Fund by the end of 2023, he explained.

The investment in rural connectivity will work alongside Land Information NZ’s rollout of the Southern Positioning Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) service. As OpenGov Asia had reported earlier, SouthPAN is the Southern Hemisphere’s first satellite navigation augmentation service. It will improve the availability and accuracy of positioning, taking it from 5-10 metres to as little as 10 centimetres across the country.

This will boost rural productivity through precision agriculture and horticulture, fenceless farming, and improve the safety of search and rescue in the backcountry. The government, along with private sector contributions, has invested more than $2.5 billion into improving digital connectivity to date.

The government has also released “Lifting Connectivity in Aotearoa”, which sets out the high-level connectivity vision for New Zealand over the next decade. This includes the goal that all New Zealanders have access to high-speed connectivity networks, and that the country is in the top 20% of nations with respect to international connectivity measures.

Last month, the government launched the Remote Users Scheme to provide broadband and connect New Zealand’s most remote communities. Clark had announced the scheme, noting that it would equip as many remote households as possible with the connectivity infrastructure needed to access broadband services. As reported on OpenGov Asia, the Remote Users Scheme will help connect people to online health services and educational tools. Through Budget 2022, $15 million was allocated towards funding the scheme, as part of the broader $60 million rural connectivity package announced earlier in the year.

The Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP), which was established by the government, will administer the Remote Users Scheme and is calling for applications from potentially eligible households and communities. A request for proposal from Internet service providers will follow. It is expected that new broadband connectivity infrastructure for the eligible areas and households can begin being built in mid-2023.

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