The fourth annual Internet Speed Survey has highlighted an urgent need for improved connectivity across Northland – a demand that has been further exposed by the knock-on effects of COVID-19.

The survey is a collaboration between Northland’s Digital Enablement Group (DEG), and the region’s four councils, Northland Regional Council, the Far North, Kaipara, and Whangarei District Councils, designed to give communities a greater say in their region’s digital future.

“The survey is crucial because the information it provides helps us to snap internet speeds into shape, build stronger connectivity and supply more digital opportunity for our region,” said Joseph Stuart, who is Chairman of DEG – which has been advocating for better digital infrastructure across Northland for the past five years – and General Manager, Business Innovation and Growth at Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency. 

With the requirements of working from home and video conferencing now taking on more prominence in light of COVID-19, Stuart pointed out that, although connectivity was more available across the region, the expectations of quality were not being met. “In too many cases, it was poor,” he said.

The mean average download speed of those responding to the survey has increased from 20Mbps to 46Mbps, although the median has lifted only from 15 to 17Mbps.

“COVID-19 has certainly exposed the gulf between the haves and have nots when it comes to broadband users in Northland, and the minimal lift in median speed backs this up. We want communities to be able to work from home more easily, or to participate in video conferences should they need to, and the results of the survey show that that is not always possible,” he added.

Of those stating their type of internet connection, 25 percent listed this as being fibre (UFB).  This is up almost three times from the nine percent recorded in 2018/19. There was a considerable lift in the proportion of respondents on fibre in all three districts. In 2018/19 only two percent of the Far North District-based respondents indicated that they were on fibre, while in the 2019/20 survey 16 percent did. The gap in connectivity between those in urban areas with fibre, and rural areas without, is growing the digital divide between Northland’s towns and rural communities.

“It’s vitally important that we close the digital divide in Northland, and the DEG’s plan for the region, supported by great initiatives like the Far North’s Nothing But Net, is to reach 100 percent connectivity and 100 percent opportunity by 2020,” Stuart said. “No one should be at a digital disadvantage because of their postcode.”

Nothing But Net, launched by the Far North District Council, seeks a collective response to the digital divide, using a video-based tool that asks how communities can shape their own digital future. The response to this campaign will contribute to the development of a Far North digital strategy.

“Responses to the Internet Speed Survey give us a better idea of the speed of connectivity available in the region,” said Ana Mules, Team Leader, Community Development and Investment for the Far North District Council. “The raw data we collate helps us work with central government and internet providers to identify our digital infrastructure needs in the here and now. 

“Nothing But Net is more future-focused, asking communities to use their voice to shape our digital future. The internet is just a tool, the power is in how we use it.”

There was a similar pattern of district-based responses to previous years, 60 percent of respondents lived within the Far North (55 percent in 2018/19), 28 percent (30 percent) lived in the Whangārei District and 12 percent (15 percent) living in Kaipara. There were 282 completed responses in 2019/20, down one-third from 377 in 2018/19.

The proportion of respondents indicating that they are more than or very satisfied with the internet service has risen from 11 percent in 2018/19 to 17 percent in 2019/20. However, one-in-four respondents are not at all satisfied with the internet service they have and a further 40 percent are only partly satisfied. These percentages have not changed a great deal in the two years.