Source: Federated Farmers
Coverage, reliability and speed of mobile and internet services for many farming families and businesses are treading water, if not going backwards, the 2022 Federated Farmers Rural Connectivity Survey shows.
More than half of the nearly 1,200 farmers who responded to the survey report internet download speeds at or less than what could be considered a bare minimum (20 megabytes per second/Mbps) and those who said their mobile phone service had declined in the last 12 months jumped from 20% to 32%.
“For a sector that underpins the lion’s share of New Zealand’s export earnings, and one where productivity gains and reporting requirements are increasingly aligned with used of technology, apps and devices, this is really concerning,” Federated Farmers national board member and telecommunications spokesperson Richard McIntyre says.
“It’s a given that it’s easier and more profitable to deliver high standards of mobile and broadband to urban areas. But rural families and farm businesses – who due to remoteness and road travel times can really benefit from strong on-line connectivity access – must not be left behind.”
The survey showed a continuing trend of farmers moving to wireless broadband (now 52%) and, despite the expense, satellite services (19%) as old copper lines fail to deliver on speed and reliability.
“But we saw a greater number of farmers remark that the quality and reliability of their internet connections had deteriorated as local network infrastructure had become over-subscribed, either by increased numbers of users or increased demand by those users,” Richard said.
A similar issue is happening with mobile phone services.
“When a third of rural users are saying mobile connectivity has declined in the last year, it points to severe reliability issues.”
Nearly 69 percent of respondents reported problems with calls dropping out, an inability to make and receive calls or send and receive text messages even when they have 2 signal bars on their cellphone.
For many, the decline in mobile services meant they were no longer able to rely on mobile broadband as a back-up for those times where their internet connection to the farm is disrupted. For others, it appears nearby mobile towers have become incapable of handing voice calls and mobile data as they have become overburdened by more people making greater use of the same towers.
“This is an issue Federated Farmers raised with government following our 2020 and 2019 surveys and we acknowledge that of $60 million earmarked for rural telecommunications in this year’s Budget, some $45m is dedicated to upgrading or adding towers,” Richard said.
“This work can’t happen too soon.”