Business Central April 2021

48 | Bringing broadband to the hinterland T T Karen Phelps Rural Connectivity Group REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT C ovid-19 has highlighted the importance of getting New Zealand connected in terms of robust broadband and mobile coverage, says Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) CEO John Proctor. “We know our network across rural New Zealand is making a huge difference to the daily lives of rural people by allowing reliable and fast access to the internet,” says John. “Now more than ever a greater number of Kiwis are working, schooling, and running businesses from their rural homes,” he says. “The feedback we have received from communities already benefiting from the RCG network is overwhelming as they can now complete tasks that most of us take for granted for example paying wages, ordering inventory, attending online meetings, and helping their children with homework. “We’ve seen how rural Kiwis lives are trans - formed once they are able to connect.” RCG is a joint venture between Spark, Voda - fone and 2degrees and has been contracted by Crown Infrastructure Partners to deliver the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative Phase 2 (RBI2) and Mobile Black Spots Fund (MBSF) programmes. The RCG is responsible for building, op - erating and maintaining this essential rural network infrastructure. The venture has recently passed two impor- tant milestones: it has livened its 200th site and it has completed its first West Coast fibre enabled cell site, called Fox West, in conjunc- tion with Chorus. Located along the Haast Highway 8kms west of Fox Glacier township, the site will provide 4G wireless broadband and mobile calling services to homes, businesses, the farming community across the area, and to approxi- mately 20km of SH6 covering Haast Highway to the Cook River. John says that the Chorus fibre roll out, which is primarily Government funded from the Provincial Growth Fund will enable upgraded broadband services and provide backhaul to the RCG network along the West Coast route. “The Fox Glacier to Lake Hawea link will cre - ate diversity in providing an alternative route to existing fibres and will also mean the Haast township is added to those getting Ultra-Fast Broadband. The roll out will also enable RCG to connect over 20 mobile cell sites from Fox Glacier to Haast in the Westland District Coun - cil area, and from Haast to Lake Hawea in the Otago region, to the Chorus fibre.” He says the project will no doubt play an im- portant part in regenerating the region once the borders open as the sites will deliver 4G wireless broadband and 3G mobile services to over 400 homes and businesses, nearly “We know our network across rural New Zealand is making a huge difference to the daily lives of rural people by allowing reliable and fast access to the internet.” 140km of State highway and 13 tourist hot - spots and be a “game changer” for telecom- munications services on the West Coast. Meanwhile the 200th site to be livened is located on farmland off Seafield Road, Puketapu, in Hawkes Bay, and is providing 4G wireless broadband and 4G mobile services from Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees to over 115 households. Livening the Seafield Road site takes the total number of operational RCG sites in the Hawkes Bay Region to twenty, with another eleven sites planned in the region by the end of the programme in December 2023. “We’ve a substantial build programme with a total of 31 sites of our 500 cell sites located here,” says John. “Livening this site marks a significant point in the RCG journey, including for our suppliers and contractors who have all contributed to our 200th site live.” Once the Government Funded RBI2 pro - gramme is fully completed in 2023, approxi- mately 84,000 rural homes and businesses will receive improved broadband. The Mobile Black Spot Fund programme will provide approximately 1,400 kms of state highway coverage and connectivity to 168 tourism sites across New Zealand. “Reliable broadband is also essential for emergency management and RCG sites are helping communities be safe by delivering warnings such as Covid alerts and recently RCG coastal sites were used by Civil Defence to notify rural communities of the potential Tsunami warning. “Rural Kiwis also report that it is vitally im - portant to have good connectivity so they can provide social and wellbeing support within their local community. So these programmes have many important benefits for rural New Zealand.”