Media Release RCS 2023

Government, industry discuss future proofing our rural communities at Rural Connectivity Symposium, TUANZ launches new vision

Government, industry, and community representatives gathered at the Tech Users Association (TUANZ) Rural Connectivity Symposium in Christchurch yesterday, to discuss future proofing connectivity in our rural communities.

“Recent weather events at the beginning of this year have reinforced the need to continue to future-proof rural communities in Aotearoa, with regional and rural New Zealand users having a mixed experience at best, or having to deal with being disconnected for significant periods of time,” says TUANZ CEO Craig Young.

Minister of Digital Economy and Communications, Hon Gin Andersen, opened the event and said the Government remains acutely aware of the importance of rural connectivity. She addressed that while building resilience is important, we need to balance that with keeping our eye on the horizon and investing in a better tomorrow.

Today’s budget announcement by the Government has announced a $6 billion spend to fund a National Resilience Plan in response to Cyclone Gabrielle and other extreme weather events, including reinstating telecommunications, although the details of how much will be focused on ensuring that families and whanau can remain in touch in these events is unclear. The Government will also fund an initiative to support the recovery of under-serviced rural communities that have been impacted by the North Island weather events. Funding will cover the creation of centralised community hubs, as well as improved access to critical recovery services and reliable telecommunications.

“It’s also pleasing to see that the Government has extended The Equitable Digital Access Programme until June 2024, which provides funding to continue free home internet access for up to 18,000 student households until June 2024. TUANZ wrote to the Prime Minister late last year asking for this programme to be expanded,” says Craig.

Chorus CEO JB Rousselot’s keynote presentation at the symposium called for the industry and Government to work together on delivering rural connectivity that continues to meet the needs of all New Zealanders and concentrate on closing the digital divide. In his speech, JB signalled Chorus’s intention to retire the copper network within the next ten years and become an all-fibre company. The company estimates about $500m of investment could extend its fibre network to an additional 75,000 premises, providing over 90 percent of the population with access to fibre.

TUANZ CEO Craig Young announced the organisation’s new vision at the event: “Our vision is that by 2033, all individuals and businesses in New Zealand will have unrestricted access to the technology and services they need to thrive; no one misses out on the opportunities available to them in the digital technology world; and digital engagement is safe and inclusive for all New Zealanders.

“We will contribute to this by being a strong independent voice for all users of technology and helping our members prepare to take advantage of this digital future”, says Craig.

The new vision relates to some of the key topics discussed at the event including equity and affordability, reliable and resilient infrastructure, and how connectivity can enable and empower residents to become active participants in the economy.

Community representatives at the symposium spoke of the ongoing uncertainties following recent extreme weather events and people want assurances to restore their faith in the resiliency of our telecommunications infrastructure. And although they felt heard, they didn’t feel there was enough action or follow through.

“As we now head into a period of infrastructure rebuild in large parts of the motu, we need to ensure that the lessons learnt after these events are not forgotten, and in fact we “build back better”. Being an election year gives us the chance to sit down with politicians, reset the dialogue around the next steps for connectivity and imagine what could be if we saw continued real improvements to rural services,” says Craig.

For further comment or interview, please contact Craig Young
Phone: 021 488 188

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