NZ's digital divide: Elderly, poor families, rural Kiwis, farmers still missing out on internet

We're more reliant on internet than ever, with services like banking shifting online - but many Kiwis still aren't connected.

The most recent Government data estimates more than 13 percent of households don't have internet access.

Digital Inclusion Alliance's Lawrence Zwimpfer's home office is filled with modems. He posts them to people who can't afford a broadband contract.

"With the internet, you may be physically isolated but you don't have to be socially isolated, and I think that's what people have very quickly discovered," he told Newshub.

The modems cost $5 per 30GB of internet, and 20,000 households have installed them in the past 18 months. The arrival of COVID-19, working from home and the closure of shops and services is driving demand.

"It skyrocketed in original COVID, and it's just continued at about 1000 a month," Zwimpfer said.

One of the first recipients was 87-year-old Alan Royal. With everything going online, it's getting harder for elderly people to stay connected.   

"I'll just go on shepherd's pie recipes. There's one site I saw that's got 2 million recipes," Royal marvelled.

But despite thousands of modems flying out the door, a lot of kids are still missing out.

The Salvation Army estimates 90 percent of whanau in its transitional housing don't have access to affordable internet. The average monthly cost for unlimited data is more than $70 a month.

"So that has impacts on the education of their tamariki, but also their ability to connect with their wider social networks," said the Salvation Army's Ana Inka.

"We're finding a lot of people being isolated, not being able to make connection with their family - a lot of elderly," explained Rawiri Resident Association's Liz Kiriona.

That monthly cost is even higher in rural areas - between $100 and $300 a month - and the connection can be patchy.

Lindy Nelson from Eketāhuna drives up a hill to hotspot from her phone because the internet's so bad at home.

"It's about a 30-minute round trip from my house to where I know I'll get adequate reception," she said.

So her ute doubles as an office. She believes with neighbours using streaming sites like Netflix, the speed's impacted.

"Then it can become non-existent, so it's definitely slowed down," Nelson said.

And she's not alone. A Federated Farmers survey found 31 percent of farmers have slower internet than last year. 

"Their connectivity's treading water; it's not moving forward, and to some degree it's actually going backwards a little bit - so that's creating big frustration in rural areas," explained Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard.

Farmers are hoping the Government's plan to provide fast broadband to rural users will soon ease that frustration.