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Rural women slam govt broadband plan

26 Jan 2010

The organisation that represents rural households is calling on the government to rethink its $300 million plan to upgrade rural broadband infrastructure.

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) claims to speak for 600,000 New Zealanders and over 200,000 rural households. Its telecommunications spokesperson Jacky Stafford is urging the government to go back to the drawing board in a white paper released on its website.

“The current proposal is unfair as around half of rural households will have access to ultra-fast broadband, while the other half will remain stranded on dial-up internet, or have to pay for expensive wireless or satellite connections,” Stafford says.

The government is proposing that the majority of the $300 million earmarked to upgrade rural broadband be funded by a levy on telcos. The levy is similar to the current TSO, but instead of all the money going to Telecom to compensate it for delivering voice services to remote areas, it would be a contestable funding pool. ICT Minister Steven Joyce told a rural broadband conference in November that the money would be spent on a fibre network connecting rural schools. These schools would then become connectivity hubs for their surrounding communities.

But RWNZ says the previous government’s school-based initiative Project PROBE failed to connect 100,000 rural households and the new policy is in danger of enforcing this inequity. Stafford says the government should use the funding to ensure basic broadband is available to all.

“We shouldn’t be gold-plating existing broadband services for some, while leaving the rest stranded. Equal access for all rural households and farms should be the primary goal.”

RWNZ grew out of the Womens Division of Federated Farmers, and its position is somewhat at odds with the current Federated Farmers. In its submission to the government’s rural proposal late last year, Federated Farmers was broadly supportive of the plan to connect schools first, however it argued for an increase in government and industry funding.