NZ Election 2020: Labour promises funding boost for rural connectivity

Communications spokesperson Kris Faafoi said connectivity is vital for rural communities.
Communications spokesperson Kris Faafoi said connectivity is vital for rural communities. Photo credit: Getty

Labour is promising to boost rural connectivity if elected on October 17.

The party on Saturday promised a new $60 million infrastructure fund to help boost connectivity capacity and upgrade backhaul connections. 

"The COVID pandemic has highlighted the vital role digital connectivity plays across New Zealand, including for our rural primary producing industries that link to some of New Zealand’s more remote, hard-to-reach places where internet services can be patchy," the party's communications spokesperson Kris Faafoi said.

"This $60 million infrastructure fund is targeted at increasing connectivity in our worst connected regions to deliver faster, more reliable internet connections."

Faafoi said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) would be responsible for leading the work and would identify the worst-affected areas, with a focus on Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Auckland rural area, Otago, Hawke’s Bay (including Central Hawke’s Bay), West Coast, Taranaki, rural areas of Wellington, Wairarapa, and Southland. 

"This will build on the wider digital programmes we have rolled out in government and expands on the $50 million Crown Infrastructure Partners funding already announced with a priority focus on Te Tai Tokerau, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, top of the South Island and Canterbury," Faafoi said.

The party also promised to commit $10 million to opening up suitable radio spectrum for rural communities where broadband capacity and coverage is under pressure.

Earlier this year the Government allocated $15 million from the Ultra-Fast Broadband initiative to improving rural broadband capacity as a response to COVID-19. That funding was for upgrading existing rural mobile towers, upgrading wireless backhaul, which connects remote sites to central networks, and installing external antennas on households to improve coverage.

A recent survey by Federated Farmers found that 68 percent of respondents had download speeds of 20Mbps or less, and nearly 24 percent had download speeds of just 0-5Mbps.

The survey also found around one in three farms surveyed said only up to 50 percent of the farm had mobile coverage, while almost a quarter of respondents said they had coverage on 25 percent of their farm or less.