Users urged to press case for faster internet

Unifone managing director Travis Baird installs an internet receiver at the offices of the...
Unifone managing director Travis Baird installs an internet receiver at the offices of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust in Waitati. Photo by Dan Hutchinson
Dunedin residents who still experience painfully slow internet speeds are hoping they will not miss out again on government funding being doled out over the next few months.

Residents in Outram and other outlying parts of Dunedin who are still without usable internet are hoping they will not miss out on what could be their last chance for cheap, high-speed connections.

The Government has announced another $150 million to mop up internet problems in rural areas as part of its Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) and Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) project but it relies on local councils to get involved before July 3.

Communities such as Outram, parts of Saddle Hill and Otago Peninsula, Warrington, Waikouaiti and rural areas north and south of the main city are effectively reduced to dial-up speed at times.

Outram Charitable Trust treasurer Tim Gibson was involved in petitioning the Government over the issue last year and had a response from Communications Minister Amy Adams.

''She says while they can't commit, Outram was a town they would seriously consider upgrading as part of the extension programme because we have missed out on everything.''

The town needs its exchange upgraded so residents would get faster speeds without having to pay to set up wireless services.

Those who have signed up for wireless internet, provided by RBI-funded companies such as Vodafone, have had mixed results.

Harwood resident Kevin Black relies on the internet to keep in touch with family around the world and to run his business from home.

He signed up with Vodafone's RBI package but it did not work well at peak times or when the sea mist rolled in.

''RBI was going to give me urban-like billing with an urban-like service and, well, they didn't succeed on that one.''

Instead, he switched to small wireless internet company Unifone, a private company that has so far been unable to access any government subsidies.

''It is doing what it is supposed to do, which is give me a really consistent, high-speed connection.''

Unifone managing director Travis Baird said it was slowly rolling its service out across the province using repeater stations and dish receivers and charging a $205 setup cost, one-third of the cost the RBI providers were charging.

His company and similar ones around the district had joined forces to lobby the Government for a share of the RBI funding because they believed they were able to provide a better service in some areas than larger providers.

Dunedin Digital Office projects manager Josh Jenkins said he was trying to get communities to ''put their hand up and really drive council engagement''.

His office had not been funded to drive the council's bid for a share of the latest funding round and he hoped they were not leaving it too late.

''Time is ticking, though, and the opportunity could well be missed if it is not acted on.''

He said it was the ''one chance'' for communities such as Outram to finally be included in the Government's UFB fibre roll-out and they needed to stand up and be heard.

A Vodafone spokesman was unable to comment on Mr Black's experience in time for today's paper but said it was up to the Government to decide if some areas were better off being served by small wireless providers.

''Our customers have told us the huge difference access to high-speed broadband makes to their everyday lives.''

He said Vodafone would be upgrading three sites in the Dunedin City area over the next two years under the RBI - at Waikouaiti, Waldronville and Middlemarch, bringing wireless broadband to those areas for the first time.

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