Rural broadband initiative milestone

The sight of Netta Wilton sitting in the middle of a paddock with a laptop would probably seem odd to passersby, but it was a common scene last year.

Mrs Wilton, who lives in Scotts Gap with her husband Karl and three children, had such slow broadband

she would need to sit in a paddock to get any kind of reliable speed to do her online banking.

Mrs Wilton and her household can now successfully watch videos, play games and do the banking online, thanks to the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI).

The RBI is a partnership between Vodafone and the government aiming to upgrade 387 existing cell towers and build 154 new towers around the country in a bid to give rural residents access to fast broadband.

The first Rural Broadband tower for Southland was built at Nightcaps in August last year, giving fast broadband access to more than 1000 households, including the Wiltons.

''It's awesome compared to what we had before. We love it.

''It's 11 times faster than it used to be - it used to take six minutes to change a page. We couldn't get internet banking.

''Now we can watch videos, the kids can do their homework and play games, and we run our whole farm business online.''

Vodafone head of networks Tony Baird said the company had

hit the halfway mark for Southland, Gore and Invercargill, completing upgrades to 11 of its 19 existing cell sites and delivering wireless broadband services to more than 6150 rural addresses.

Vodafone cell sites at Ohai, Edendale, Hedgehope and Mid Dome in Southland, and at Edendale and Riversdale South in Gore, would be upgraded in the next 12 months of the RBI programme.

This would extend wireless broadband services to an additional 5100 rural addresses.

Five of nine new towers planned under the RBI for Southland and Invercargill were complete, including at Tokanui, Waimahaka, Nightcaps, Lorneville and Lumsden.

The new tower on Stewart Island was due to be completed this month, while the final three towers would go live during the final two years of the RBI programme.