News: Affordable Digital Connectivity Solution for All Of Government To Save Tax Dollars!


25/05/2021

An affordable solution that brings fast digital access to rural Eastern Bay residents has been proposed by Toi EDA to leverage the existing fibre connections to the regions schools.

The significant digital divide across the Eastern Bay became apparent during lockdown and the lack of connectivity has significant social and economic implications. With affordable access and education being critical to the future workforce and education opportunities, as well as for simple banking, shopping and social services access, having reliable internet access has been referred to by many leaders as a human right.

One of the leading community providers of affordable internet and devices in the EBOP, Te Aka Toitū Trust, has joined the collective and shared their success in connecting decile 1 and 2 schools in Kawerau, Murupara, Minginui, Ngāputahi, Pāpueru and Ruatāhuna. In coming months they also hope to connect Te Mahoe, Waiohau and Rūātoki schools.  Te Aka Toitū has established ‘free filtered’ wifi access zones across these communities, leveraging the existing high speed fibre connections that run to the local schools. Lesley Immink, the Trust Chair, says that their successful rollout has meant entire families are able to access ‘free’ internet for education and social services, which promotes digital literacy in home.

She has critical feedback though for government stating, “while we have had amazing financial support from Bay Trust, Trust Horizon, Internet NZ and other external funding agencies, the need for digital connectivity and inequity is growing. We’ve achieved what we have with a part-time project manager and team of voluntary dedicated Trustees. Imagine what we could achieve for our families if we had the appropriate funding? In 2021, we actually shouldn’t even need to exist and its time for Government to think smarter across all Ministries and how they can be better aligned.

Bridging this access gap and highlighting how connectivity can improve economic, social, justice and health benefits for all, has been the focus of Toi-EDA.

Ian Morton, GM for Toi EDA, says that by bringing together so many great initiatives in the EBOP the group was able to draw the best thoughts into a cohesive strategy. Ian says that “the great work done by so many of our partners is now able to be built on and rolled out. The key barrier to internet access is affordability, not just connectivity, education and access to devices. Addressing this affordability challenge with all of our iwi, community groups and education providers has meant some great solutions have been discovered. Minginui has, for example, got one of the fastest broadband speeds across the entire region and this allows the residents to access it with ease”.

What is being proposed? Too often we have different government agencies working in silos, all with the right intention, but budgets and people resourcing are not aligned to actually what is a common purpose - enabling families and businesses to be more productive with the best possible wellbeing outcomes. Connecting families with affordable internet is a no brainer when you consider the benefits across the agencies.

Ministry of Education – if further lockdowns occur, children can access learning from home, families become upskilled in technology and as the connections go via the schools N4L network, students accessing materials and knowledge is filtered

Ministry for Justice – reduced costs for Ministry, less people incarcerated as ankle bracelets can be work at home, and monitoring can be done more effectively, thus improving community safety

Ministry for Social Development – Job seekers can access MSD from rural, remote and isolated communities without having to physically travel large distances, job interviews and CV preparation can be done online etc enabling people to employment

Ministry of Health – Reduced travel to doctors within online consultations, prescriptions being sent to the home, and improved services and ability to share information across health providers

Ministry for Primary Industries and Ministry Business Innovation & Employment – ability to apply new technologies e.g. (Internet of Things) to rural, remote and isolated communities, fostering innovation and increased productivity

This proposal was prepared in partnership with local iwi, local government, social service providers, education, health, and emergency services, with wider community support.  The total request to the governments COVID relief fund is $5.2 million – which allows for the infrastructure to be built on the fibre nodes in schools, devices to be provided to those that need them, and education on how to get the most out of their devices and new access. Ian says “this is actually a very small amount to achieve digital connectivity for almost all of our EBOP residents. Initial discussions with central government have been very positive”.

By creating affordable access to internet the EBOP population can accompany the growth seen across the rest of the country. With many people looking to return to the region as a result of the growth expected and due to COVID19, many people expect to be able to work from the EBOP as if they were based in any other main centre. 
   
Ian Morton
General Manager – Operations
Mobile : +64 (0)27 433 1147
Email : ian@toi-eda.co.nz
Web : www.toi-eda.co.nz