Minister not plugged into community signal struggles

It is unacceptable that a town just 10 minutes from Greymouth has such poor digital connectivity that they are not able to even receive Civil Defence warnings, National’s Digital Economy and Communications spokesperson Melissa Lee says.

Ms Lee has been advocating for rural communities which are being left behind by a lack of digital and communications infrastructure.

Dunollie is a small town on the West Coast and in March, Melissa Lee, along with National List MP based in West Coast-Tasman Maureen Pugh, visited its frustrated residents. Despite having a cell tower on the beach to enable tourists to stay connected, a hill between the beach and the township prevents the locals from accessing the signal.

“In terms of safety for our population in New Zealand, I think that connectivity is actually really, really important,” said Ms Lee while questioning Minister for Digital Economy and Communications David Clark at an Estimates Review on June 10th.

“Obviously, that’s a fairly remote community but experiencing the challenge that some remote communities do of connectivity in those situations,” was the Minister’s take on the situation.

“Of course there are challenges with building any kind of infrastructure in more remote areas, but that isn’t a justification for just leaving communities without access to the same services and capabilities as the rest of the country,” Ms Lee says.

“It is a pretty poor attitude to think a small community can be just written off because it is too hard to address their connectivity issues. The people of Dunollie just want to be able to be untethered from landline phones and send a text without having to drive into the nearest town.

“Minister Clark spent much of the Estimates Review passing the buck to any Minister or official who was even remotely involved with his Ministerial portfolio. My advice to him is that pretending problems don’t exist doesn’t make them go away.

“In Parliamentary Written Questions he dismissed my concerns saying, ‘I am advised that the tower at Rapahoe is serving its intended purpose and there are no plans to relocate the tower.’ He also turned down my suggestion that he visit Dunollie and hear from the people who will assure him the tower is, in fact, not serving its purpose.

“It is 2021! New Zealanders should not have to beg and petition Members of Parliament to have access to the mobile connectivity New Zealand has had for decades.”