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Sections of State Highway 6 will have cell service by the end of the year.
Previously, a commitment was made to bring in reception by 2022 - but four years was too long to wait for the locals dealing with serious car crashes and no ability to call 111.
St John volunteer Blair Farmer told the New Zealand Herald in January “to say that positive patient outcomes are severely compromised is an understatement”.
Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Clare Curran announced the accelerated, initial solutions to the area’s connectivity crisis during a visit today.
“This Government has heard the community’s concerns about public safety issues caused by no mobile service and over summer we’ve seen the impact a lack of mobile connectivity can have in an isolated community which has a lot of tourism,” Curran said.
“By the end of May a 3G cell tower will be built and operational covering the township and State Highway 6 north and east of Haast for around 3km. Residents and visitors will be able to text and make phone calls on three mobile networks - Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees.”
Haast sits in the middle of a 244km reception black spot that runs from Fox Glacier to Lake Hawea on the West Coast.
It means a drive of three hours straight without getting reception and help is not easy to access in the remote area.
Between six and eight small roadside mobile sites will be placed along sections of SH6 between Fox Glacier and Lake Hawea by the end of the year.
These initial solutions were aimed at improving safety and co-ordination and did not include broadband coverage. The permanent solution for Haast and the West Coast would be based on 4G mobile technology with good broadband speeds and be in place before the end of 2022.
Curran called the plan “challenging” due to the difficulty in finding suitable sites for towers in remote country. The locations needed to have coverage, power and connections back to the core telecommunications network.
The minister said they were focusing on the areas of the greatest need first and Haast suffers from a “near-complete dearth of connectivity”.
“If other regions organise themselves and bring part of a community solution to the table, such as land for the cell towers, then I will listen to their cases.
“But I would note that there are extenuating circumstances in the Haast case. The Haast mobile black spot is one of the longest in the country and includes one of the New Zealand’s most precarious state highways.”
The likely order in which rural communities will receive greater mobile coverage under the Mobile Black Spot Fund will be released soon.