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Tairawhiti internet firms working for the Govt . . . and rugby fans

A pair of East Coast internet providers are playing key roles in the Government’s broadband roll-out, showing size and location are no barriers to success — while also ensuring isolated rural communities do not miss out on the new way the Rugby World Cup will be delivered to fans in September.

Gisborne Net and WiFi Connect are both partnering with Crown Infrastructure Partners, which manages the contracts for the Government’s broadband expansion projects, to deliver phase two of the Rural Broadband Initiative and Mobile Black Spots Fund (RBI2/MBSF) programme — providing rural broadband coverage in the Gisborne region and elsewhere around the country.

WiFi Connect business manager Ivan Lomax said just three years after starting off as a community WiFi hub, the Tokomaru Bay company, co-founded by network manager Leon Symes, was now working to deliver internet as far away as Hokitika.

“Two years ago we applied for the RBI2 funding and were successful just before Christmas with funding of $1 million over four years to extend our networks throughout south Westland from south of the Grey River right down to Jackson Bay, south of Haast, including Inchbonnie and Otira.

“We were also successful in securing funding to extend our network throughout Te Urewera, Ruatoki and Waiotahi.”

The company also employs local sub-contractors in Murupara, Minginui, Fox Glacier and Hokitika.

“Our whole approach to building these networks has always been to work with local communities first to gauge their needs and get them involved from the start, through to using locals as sub-contractors. This is different from nearly all other ISPs who build the infrastructure first and then hope for customers.

“This approach definitely works and empowers locals.

“We can manage most of our business remotely due to the nature of the internet. Our registered office is in Tokomaru Bay and Leon runs the network side of it from his home office in Nuhaka.

“This means small rural companies can compete in the tech world with larger corporations. Large is not always best, and we have personal interaction with our customers who appreciate that.

“We also offer payment plan assistance to those who struggle with past credit-rating and payment problems. Our Prepaid system helps this significantly.

“Our help desk is currently being integrated with Gisborne Net’s — who will be contracted to provide these services, employing local Gisborne staff.”

Gisborne Net general manager Ronald Brice said the company had now been involved in the broadband roll-out for about two years.

“We’re working right up to Cape Runaway in the north now and right down to Tutira, and now moving out towards Taupo.

“Most of it is to infill areas in the Gisborne- Wairoa region that hadn’t been covered with adequate speeds, and making sure everyone has really good coverage come the Rugby World Cup.”

This year, the Rugby World Cup will be shown live mostly through Spark’s streaming service, rather than regular television, meaning viewers will need high-speed broadband access.

“We’re putting some big towers inland from Tokomaru Bay and a third one is to go up near Hicks Bay, next month. So it will be Gigabit all the way to Hicks Bay, all along our inland backbone.”

An inland microwave backbone was also being enhanced with higher speeds.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure to be put in place and we are looking to monitor the network for WiFi Connect as well, so we’ll be needing more staff soon — once those networks are completed.”

A Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP)spokeswoman said coverage for the RBI2/MBSF programme was procured through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process seeking bids from network operators for a defined group of end users (being rural households and businesses).

“The RFP process was conducted by CIP under All of Government (AoG) procurement rules with strong probity and public law advice. A precise technology type was not specified in the RFP, and regional operators were encouraged to participate in the open tender process with innovative solutions.

“The exact locations and timing for the rollout are still being finalised. Partners are currently in the process of completing detailed planning for the deployment of infrastructure.”

BOOSTING INTERNET SPEEDS: Gisborne Net general manager Ronald Brice says they have been involved in the broadband roll-out for about two years, and are now focusing on remote areas of the Gisborne and Wairoa districts. Picture by Paul Rickard
TOKOMARU CONNECTIONS: WiFi Connect business manager Ivan Lomax at Tokomaru Bay, where the business was started three years ago as a community WiFi hub. It is now working to deliver internet services throughout south Westland, as well as for Te Urewera, Ruatoki and Waiotahi. Picture supplied