News, Views and Commentary
A fast, efficient and affordable internet broadband and cellphone service is a step closer for an isolated rural Marlborough community.
Contractors this week erected a 5.5 metre high mast to provide internet connection to 25 households in the Waihopai Valley.
The mast, perched on top of a 750m high hill near the Waihopai Dam, will provide uninterrupted line of sight wireless service between the valley and Blenheim, 40 kilometres away.
Residents would receive 50Mb/second internet connection at a cost, to each of the 25 households already signed up, of $100 per month.
Previously the majority of homes in the valley were contracted to a rural satellite service to provide internet connection at a higher cost.
Cellphone coverage for residents was unreliable because of the narrow, rugged and winding topography of the valley. Lack of cellphone coverage caused communication problems for many residents when a large fire broke out on a ridge above the valley last summer.
Residents were unable to be alerted to the fire danger as it threatened to sweep down the valley and engulf homes, a homeowner said.
The new pilot service was a joint project between the Marlborough District Council, internet provider Pacific.Net, Creative Development Solutions and Simcox Contractors. Another pilot project was planned in the valley at a later date. Residents expect to be connected to the new service within three weeks.
Land owners Ernslaw One had provided access on company-owned forest land to the site.
"There was a real need for a decent, reliable internet service which would provide high speed broadband to residents," a project spokesman said. "This pilot project will ensure a unified network and services to the community," he said.
The new service would help alert wineries to early frost detection in vineyards in the valley, and improve communications and health and safety for forestry crews using cellphones.
- The Marlborough Express
Poor internet and cellphone coverage is hurting small rural businesses, Upper Waihopai Valley resident Summer Weir says.
Poor internet connections in rural Marlborough are putting residents at risk in civil emergencies, stifling small business growth, and limiting learning opportunities for schoolchildren, residents say.
Waihopai Valley couple Summer and Jason Weir both own separate businesses which rely on internet satellite connections to advertise and complete sales.
The couple have become increasingly frustrated with endless connection "drop-offs" which temporarily shut down communication with clients without warning. Their three primary school children also struggle to receive a reliable internet connection to complete homework.
Engineer Jason Weir said sending design plans to clients by email was often disrupted when the connection dropped off. "It's a right pain in the butt, clients get very frustrated," he said. "You can send an email only to find out at the end of the day the client hasn't received it."
The couple were among 38 households in the upper Waihopai Valley, 40 kilometres from Blenheim, where broadband internet was patchy, cellphone coverage non-existent and landline connections weather dependent. The Waihopai Valley is home to the controversial Government Communications Security Bureau's intelligence base.
The couple said no-one in the valley should be disadvantaged by technology living only 30 minutes from a main centre.
Artist Summer Weir said the lack of cellphone coverage created anxiety among residents when a forest fire in the Wairau Valley threatened to spread down a ridge towards properties last summer. The danger was only averted by a wind change but not before rural fire authorities drove to the house and warned the couple they had an hour to evacuate should the fire spread towards their house.
"With no cellphone, we only have internet and landline phones to reach the outside world in the event of weather disturbances, natural disasters, health complications and accidents," she said. "We have horrendous issues ... our communication issues affect everyone up in our valley in some way or another.
"We feel vulnerable in emergency situations due to faulty communication facilities."
The Weirs estimated they had spent up to $21,000 over the past four years on an internet satellite connection which provided up to 80GB data a month.
The couple's most recent data plan, a one-off special, provided 24GB during peak hours, and 50GB off peak, for $263 plus GST a month. Much of the overall cost came from data upgrades, usually near the end of the month, when the couple had to top up their plan to ensure a connection. One month the couple received a bill for $1000 after two backpackers staying at the house used Skype to contact family in Europe and exceeded the data plan.
An unlimited data plan was unavailable, Summer Weir said. Broadband internet installer Mike Blair said Marlborough's rugged terrain in rural areas was a challenge for many internet providers. "Satellite is the only answer to provide internet connection for many residents but unfortunately it is the most expensive."
Farmside, which is the biggest rural internet provider, offer ADSL, wireless or satellite to customers in Marlborough costing between $84.99 and $139 a month, depending on location. A Farmside spokeswoman said the company was anticipating an improved service in the region once the Government's Rural Broadband Initiative 2 (RBI2) was rolled out. An increased number of cellphone towers in the area would improve wireless reception, she said.
Under the rollout, the Government had earmarked $200 million for ultrafast broadband for rural townships, $100m for rural broadband and $50m for mobile black spot cellular coverage.
Ultrafast broadband fibre installed in Renwick, Havelock, Seddon, Ward and Wairau Valley townships would help provide wireless services to supply broadband connectivity, and improved cellular service to nearby rural communities, a Marlborough District Council discussion paper reported in 2015.
Council support services manager Dean Heiford said the council had applied for part of the funding for broadband expansion, including RBI2, and was running a feasibility study to estimate cost, site location and access to improve internet connections for rural residents. "The technology does exist to deliver high speed broadband to most rural areas in our region," he said. "The key issues are site access and connecting the dots."
- The Marlborough Express
The recently formed Smart and Connected Aquaculture initiative has been established to address a range of issues and reassess the 40-year-old's industry's aims, steering group chairman Brendon Burns said.
Council has budgeted almost $500,000 to support on Smart and Connected economic development groups between 2015-2018. Currently the aquaculture industry in Marlborough supplied the majority of New Zealand's mussel and salmon production, generated more than $160 million a year to the local economy, and provided work for almost 1000 people, he said.
Marlborough's aquaculture sector is working to connect closer to the community to help provide security of tenure for existing marine farms, and help meet future national industry targets.
Smart and Connected groups have been successful in forging closer economic working relationships between council, and the regional forestry, and timber industries, and Picton and Renwick townships.
Marlborough's seafood production is set for increasing value growth as it contributed towards the national $1 billion revenue target for all aquaculture by 2025.
"The industry recognised the need to be better engaged with the community and involve a wider section of groups to secure its future," he said.
Three working groups - Harmony, Value and Innovation, and Regulatory - have been formed within the Smart and Connected umbrella to help progress the industry. A third group, Regulatory, is expected soon.
The new aquaculture group will have input from council, iwi, industry and community representatives, Burns said.
The Smart and Connected process had shown its value with similar groups set up, he said.
"Now there is an opportunity for aquaculture to enhance the value of what is produced from the Marlborough Sounds.
"It is also an opportunity for council to work with the marine farming community in a joint venture."
Burns said Marlborough was in an unique situation of having world class aquaculture and wine industries. "No other region in the country has the same opportunity, or scale to be able to promote both farmed seafood and wine."
Securing the future productivity of aquaculture in Marlborough would rest on finding water space to expand with co-operation with interested groups, including Sounds residents, he said.
"The industry wants principally to secure space and is interested in working with council and the community to achieve this.
"We want to see the community have the opportunity to have more input into the whole process. "Part of this will be sitting down with people to discuss views to build a broad consensus."
Harmony working group chairman Eric Jorgensen said the group, made up of forestry, marine farming and community representatives, would look at what issues the community related to and how the aquaculture sector could address the issues. "There are some diverse communities in the region and the aquaculture sector cannot be introspective," he said.
"Everyone wants to know what the future holds particularly around the re-consenting process in 2024." With community support the industry can look outside its key requirements to overcome negative perceptions, he said.
"This is why we all need to align along a similar pathway to achieve our aims."
Value and Innovation sub-group chairman Zane Charman said the purpose of the group would be to find out how the aquaculture industry could add value by being innovative. "We have a diverse mix of people in the group from science, wine, salmon and mussel sectors backgrounds," he said. "We are keen to tap into the right areas of the community to build networks and ideas, and find out where we can improve on without being confrontational.
"Good ideas are driven by participants in the group to find solutions and we will be approaching it with an open mind."
Both groups would present a range of preliminary ideas at meetings this week.
In March of last year, Government announced it was providing an additional tranche of funding to address concerns and support the delivery of urban and rural broadband. This comprised $152m-$210m for UltraFast Broadband (UFB2), $100m to expand the coverage of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI2) and also $50m to improve Mobile Black Spots (MBS). Marlborough District Council was an applicant for this funding.
From April – June 2015, Marlborough District Council engaged in a series of meetings and public forums, supported by a Steering Group which included representatives of the local MP’s electorate office, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, IT Industry and Council. There were widespread indications of dissatisfaction with current broadband and mobile coverage, particularly in the Marlborough Sounds and rural communities.
In July 2015, Council submitted its ROI Response-Support document to MBIE seeking funding allocation for the district. Council has recognised that given the scale of demand and the previous pattern of provision by large telecommunications providers, no matter what funding Marlborough won from the Crown, this would not satisfy all reasonable expectations for improvement in coverage.
Councils were asked by Government to engage with communities to support uptake, facilitate consent processes, support more rapid deployment and allow for more cost effective delivery. There was a clear expectation that Councils would continue to implement their Digital Enablement Plans as the Crown considered the case for any regional allocations of funds to assist with broadband expansion.
Indications now are that the demand from Councils across New Zealand for UFB2, RBI2 and MBS funding will far exceed the budgets proposed by the Crown.
While some funding will be available from the Crown, this will need to be supplemented to meet the demand for high quality broadband and mobile coverage regardless of location. There are a range of options to provide broadband expansion, which Council can support and facilitate. These include local community initiatives, iwi partnerships, commercial offerings, projects supported by Council with commercial investment, and Council-facilitated business partnerships or some other form of delivery partnership.
Council has identified the importance of better connectivity across Marlborough communities as a core component of its Smart + Connected framework to drive and secure sustainable economic growth for the region. Council is also increasingly aware of the need for Marlborough to develop increased regional resilience.
Council Has Engaged Creative
Marlborough District Council has engaged specialist support from Creative Development Solutions (Creative) led by Brendon Burns and Dayal Phillips who largely wrote Council's response to the MBIE ROI-Support process. Council has asked Creative to undertake work to ensure that Marlborough is best positioned for its digital future, the uptake of contributing government funding plus the improvement of broadband delivery and uptake across Marlborough, all in alignment with the Smart and Connected strategy.
Creative is also commencing work on a regional broadband deployment scoping study. This will investigate and progress access and technical solutions for high-speed wireless deployment which would cover all of Marlborough and potentially reach all but about 1% of remote and rural population, including the Marlborough Sounds.
This project would deliver on Council’s requirements for Smart compliance monitoring for water and other rural and remote uses. It would also provide Marlborough residents and business with affordable fast internet, allowing economic development and growth based on knowledge, education and connectivity. In particular improved public health and safety would also be achieved by extending cellphone coverage.
If you would like assistance to do something similar, then please contact Creative.
NetHui is a community-based event about the Internet and the people that use it.
It is developed under the auspices of Internet New Zealand with strong involvement from local communities. It most often places a keen focus upon the issues of the day affecting those who use and access the Internet, seeking views, participation and involvement from all who may attend.
Nelson has been named as one of three communities across New Zealand that will host NetHui events in 2016.
The other communities involved in Nethui 2016 are Rotorua and South Auckland.
Working extensively across the Top of the South, Creative is pleased to be a sponsor of Nethui 2016 in Nelson.
NetHui events are open and inclusive. Attendees are diverse, and could come from a range of sectors including business owners, education providers, technology providers, regional start-ups and people from the general public who are interested in technology and the way in which the Internet is changing New Zealander’s lives.
Keynote speeches are often topical. The dialogue and sometimes robust discussion at breakout sessions can be interesting, informative and occassionally downright entertaining.
NetHui Nelson will be held at the Rutherford Hotel on 13 October, and is open to anyone who wishes to attend.
For more information about NetHui 2016 please follow this web reference: http://2016.nethui.nz/nelson
To register your attendance at Nethui 2016 in Nelson, please follow this link: http://2016.nethui.nz/register
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