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Internet access helping to arrest rural decline

Castle St street sign

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Government’s rural broadband initiatives are likely to be very important for rural Otago communities, according to a recent survey conducted by Professor Geoff Kearsley from Otago University’s Department of Media, Film and Communication.

The survey, conducted in the Maniototo and North Otago, asked residents how satisfactory were existing internet facilities and whether they had helped to slow long-term patterns of rural depopulation.

“Although the majority of people have access to the Internet, most experienced problems of speed and reliability on a regular basis,” says Professor Kearsley.

The survey showed that the Internet was essential for a number of businesses and provided some level of business support and employment opportunities for most respondents.

Small businesses associated with the Central Otago Rail Trail and other tourism ventures were particularly dependent on the Internet and most farmers made significant use of it as well.

The study also notes that longer term residents in the Maniototo and North Otago had seen the loss or downgrading of local services, such as banks and post offices.

“However, significant numbers said that many of these services had been replaced by online facilities and, for many, the service was as good or better,” says Professor Kearsley.

Nearly everyone said that they wanted to be able to continue to live in the district and, although only ten percent said that the Internet was an essential part of making that possible, around two thirds saw Internet access as contributing to their ability to stay.

“It is clear that even with slow and unreliable access, the Internet is playing an important part in rural people’s lives,” says Professor Kearsley.

“The Internet has enhanced their social lives, created and enhanced business opportunities, replaced lost services and is helping rural people to stay where they would most like to live. One or two people have even been able to go and live in the country because of broadband facilities.

“When ultra-fast broadband becomes available to all rural households, then these benefits are likely to be greatly enhanced.”

The results of the survey will be presented to the biennial conference of the Australasian Human Development Association, which is being held at the University of Otago University from July 4 to July 6. After that, Professor Kearsley hopes to extend the study to a much larger national sample of rural people.

For further information, contact

Professor Kearsley
Tel 64 3 479 8519
Email geoff.kearsley@otago.ac.nz

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