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Wairoa Star Closure Signals Demand For Digital Inclusion Initiatives

In the realm of digital connectivity, Wairoa stands as a stark example of exclusion and vulnerability, particularly following the closure of the Wairoa Star newspaper, according to the Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa Trust. Research conducted in 2020 by the economics and policy research institute Motu on digital wellbeing and inclusion in New Zealand found Wairoa to be the most digitally excluded community—a finding that carries significant implications for its residents.

Lewis Ratapu, Chief Executive for Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa Trust, highlights how the vulnerability of Wairoa's telecommunications network and digital infrastructure was starkly revealed during Cyclone Gabrielle.

“The aftermath highlighted the town's dependence on these systems and exposed the risks associated with their fragility. The departure of major banks such as BNZ and Westpac over the past four years further compounded Wairoa’s challenges. Citing low foot traffic as a primary reason, these institutions opted to prioritise online services, neglecting the needs of communities like Wairoa.”

Ratapu emphasises that the absence of essential services such as banking and healthcare, exacerbated by the cyclone's impact, underscores the urgent need for robust digital infrastructure.

“Despite governmental promotion of online services, there has been a glaring lack of commitment to bolstering digital infrastructure in Wairoa. This oversight jeopardises residents' access to essential services and impedes the town's economic development. As Wairoa's primary industries strive to remain competitive amidst rapid technological advancements, connectivity becomes paramount.”

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For entities like Tātau Tātau, dedicated to fostering local economic growth and addressing social disparities, Ratapu stresses the imperative of resilient digital infrastructure. He highlights how the recent closure of long-standing institutions like The Wairoa Star newspaper not only leads to job losses but also diminishes a vital platform for community connection and information dissemination.

“In the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, the importance of community cohesion and resilience has become abundantly clear. Wairoa's journey towards digital inclusion is not just about access to technology; it is about empowering residents, safeguarding essential services, and fortifying the town's future against unforeseen challenges.”

Ratapu says as Wairoa navigates its path forward, it must prioritize investments in digital infrastructure and foster digital literacy initiatives. By doing so, it can bridge the digital divide, empower its residents, and ensure a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

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