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Many Farmers Still Stuck On Connectivity Slow Lane, Feds Survey Finds

The vast majority of urban New Zealanders can get on the information superhighway at speed but the latest connectivity survey by Federated Farmers shows too many rural families and businesses are still stuck in second gear on a potholed back-road.

"We had nearly 900 responses from our members from every farm type and geographical spread but a bitter irony was that several more couldn’t complete the on-line questions because they didn’t have internet access or connectivity was too patchy or slow," Federated Farmers President and telecommunications spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said.

Around 68% of respondents have download speeds of 20Mbps or less, and nearly 24% are enduring download speeds of just 0-5Mbps.

"While around a third are on unlimited download monthly plans, many of those on capped plans complain they’d like to go unlimited but their ISP - often their only choice of ISP - doesn’t provide that option.

"It’s interesting that a number of respondents told us that during the level 4 COVID-19 lockdown some providers extended unlimited downloads to them. This would seem to indicate it’s not technical issues getting in the way of offering unlimited plans to these rural clients," Andrew said.

Mobile coverage remains a concern, with around one in three farms surveyed indicating only up to 50% of their farm gets a connection. Not far short of a quarter get 25% of farm coverage or less.

"And yet 92% of these farmers had a smartphone, and around 75% told us they use smartphone apps to support the farm business," Andrew said.

While in many of the connectivity measures there have been improvements since the Feds’ 2019 survey, it’s usually only by a percent or two.

"The task ahead is less one of pushing broadband into ever more isolated and remote locations and more one of addressing the gaps in coverage and constraints on capacity of earlier builds. More targeted investment towards bespoke builds would go a long way towards addressing connection speed and reliability concerns," Andrew said.

"Competition is a concern with many members finding they only have the one provider and have to take it or leave it as regards price and quality of service.

"We’ve got to achieve faster improvements in this space."

Many of the new technologies employed on farms, whether cloud software or smartphone applications, require connectivity to realise and maximise the benefits of their use to the farm business.

Farmers are also increasingly expected to engage electronically with business services and government agencies, such as banks, IRD and local councils. And, just like urban families, the farm owner’s home - and the on-farm houses of staff - have partners and children trying to get on-line to look up information, do homework and engage in social media.

"Connectivity is a vital means of connecting with loved ones and maintaining relationships beyond the farm gate. This is especially relevant for the families of those who work on the farm that would otherwise struggle with geographical isolation, and is a factor in securing and retaining farm staff and their families," Andrew said.

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