Lack of infrastructure stifles broadband plans in Tairawhiti

The broadband pilot scheme for the East Coast has hit a snag: no telecommunications backbone to speak of.

The broadband pilot scheme for the East Coast has hit a snag: no telecommunications backbone to speak of.

While most regions have a fibre optic cable running through the region, the east coast is not on the way to anywhere, and its infrastructure reflects that, according to Gisborne District Council's economic development officer Rick Mansell.

"We're working on roads, rail and telephone to try to raise the service levels." The Gisborne and Wairoa councils, in conjunction with local iwi, commissioned a report into broadband feasability for the region as part of the central government's regional broadband initiative. That report, written by Nick Wood from Wellington-based consultancy firm Consultel, has now been completed and it makes for grim reading.

"At least now we know what the real picture is and how we can proceed from here."

Mansell says not having a cable means looking to either another provider, such as a wireless option, or talking to central government about what it can do to help out.

"The commercial model has fallen down on us a couple of times with roads, rail and with telecommunications." Mansell says wireless connectivity in the region is too expensive at the moment.

"We've been quoted prices of $1600 to connect and $80 to $100 a month and our businesses and residential owners aren't willing to pay that much."

Wood's report highlights a number of issues for the region, not least of which is its geographical spread with a low overall population and low population density.

"This region has one of the lowest telephone rental rates in the country - the national average is 97% of homes [having] a phone but in the Tairawhiti region it's only 90%," says Wood.

Because of the geographic of the region putting in a cable of some kind is also highly expensive and Wood says even submarine cables have been considered.

"Because of the sparse population we've also got a lot of people sharing phone lines so lots of homes aren't getting 56 Kbit/s, they're getting 14.4 Kbit/s."

Mansell says the council will look to smaller projects and taking baby steps towards its ultimate goal of broadband for the region.

"We'll continue with the schools projects and look at things like quality of the phone lines but that's about it at this stage." He says that doesn't meet telecommunications minister Paul Swain's goal of having broadband into the region and so he'll be talking with Swain's team about the problem.

"Broadband is a priority for the council, but not a pressing one. We've also got to look at roads and at rail as well as power supply," says Mansell, who also has a quick solution to the problem:

"We'll be buying a lot of Lotto tickets."

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