Farmers call for better rural connectivity

$21m "a drop in the required connectivity bucket"

Credit: Dreamstime

Federated Farmers has dismissed the Government's pledge of $21 million to create a series of regional digital hubs in rural areas as merely "a drop in the required connectivity bucket".

Federated Farmers' telecommunications spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said the lack of regional connectivity had been highlighted by the introduction of mandatory payday filing.

From 1 April 2019 any organisation with more than $50,000 in payroll will be required for file payroll data electronically within two days of payday, rather than monthly as a present.

"If you have decent connectivity then you will be able to comply with this change simply," Hoggard said. ""Staff will be able to log their hours via their smartphones, which can go into your cloud-based payroll software, which will then automatically pay everyone, and send the required data to IRD.

"However, without decent connectivity, smartphones are useless along with cloud-based software, and then that rural businesses paperwork mountain just got a little higher."

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced on 4 February that the government would invest in Regional Digital Hubs (RDHs) in towns to connect local people and businesses to digital services, as part of the $21 million package for digital connectivity in the Provincial Growth Fund.

RDHs were described as "place-based facilities which may include key digital services such as free connectivity (via WiFi), co-working spaces for businesses and potentially council activities, event spaces, some support for technical connectivity and guidance on use of the internet for business purposes.

They will open initially in Northland, Bay of Plenty, Tairāwhiti/Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatū-Whanganui and Tai Poutini/West Coast.

Separately, under the PGF the government has awarded contracts worth $130 million for the, previously announced expansions of the Rural Broadband Initiative phase two/Mobile Black Spots Fund programme saying these would take coverage to 99.8 percent of the population over the next four years.

However, the focus of the PGF is on a number of 'surge regions': Tairāwhiti/East Coast, Hawke’s Bay, Tai Tokerau/Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Tai Poutini/West Coast and Manawatū-Whanganui.

With Tai Poutini/West Coast the only one on the South Island PGF focus areas account for only 15 percent of the South Island land mass.

"We’re caught between the competing forces of slowly catching rural up to what urban takes for granted and quickly seeing urban shoot further ahead of where rural could reach," Hoggard said.

"Rural can’t be left to lag behind the rest of the country. The current service provided to rural New Zealand is best politely described as sporadic."

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