Rural Marlborough Sounds residents struggle through 'unusable' slow internet

As many New Zealanders continue to work and learn from home, it's an impossible situation for those living in parts of rural Marlborough with "unusable" internet.

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They say they’ve been fighting for a better connection for years. Source: 1 NEWS

Residents say they've battled for a better connection for years but after a recent equipment upgrade, it's gone from bad to worse.

Christian Muche and his family call Tuna Bay in Tennyson Inlet home and considered it a much safer place to isolate during lockdown

"It's such a wonderful place. It's quiet, obviously, in the middle of nature," he told 1 NEWS.

But instead they've spent the past five weeks in Nelson, where the internet's reliable.

"My business heavily depends on a proper internet connection," Mr Muche says.

He has a global client base and needs to use video conferencing and cloud-based internet services, which wouldn't be possible at his place in the Marlborough Sounds.

"There is a common experience for us to download just a handful of emails without any attachment, it takes minutes," he says.

"It feels like back in the last century in terms of speed and connectivity."

Connectivity has been a problem for Marlborough Sounds residents for years.

Leanne Schmidt, who lives in Penzance Bay in Tennyson Inlet, says the situation deteriorated when Chorus recently undertook an upgrade programme on its copper network in the Marlborough region.

She says the connection is "basically to the point where it's no longer fit for purpose and it's unusable".

Complaints have been laid with service providers as well as the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution. Now the Commerce Commission is looking into the matter.

Yesterday, the Government announced improvements to broadband for rural communities in the face of Covid-19, but much of that investment is to upgrade existing mobile towers that are near or at capacity.

Tennyson Inlet was expecting wireless broadband in June, but now won't have that infrastructure until the end of next year.

A spokesperson for Crown Infrastructure told 1 NEWS there are two sites to be commissioned in the area, but they're very remote and other factors have also affected the deployment schedule.

"Access to the site locations, design for the elements, logistics around building in remote locations, and access to power are factors that increase the complexity in ensuring that the tower works as intended and there is a robust link back into the main telecommunications network," the spokesperson says.

"There is also the required consenting process to work through with council and landowners."

Meanwhile, the Chorus upgrade involves replacing the older broadband electronics in cabinets for about 290 connections with a modern equivalent.

The network operator says in the majority of cases, Chorus was able to add additional capacity by "using fibre, point-to-point radio or additional copper from the cabinet back to exchange".

"However, this was not possible in some more remote locations in and around the sounds."

It's currently looking at ways to improve broadband in the region by extending the reach of fibre. 

Ms Schmidt doesn't believe there's any expectation by rural residents to have high-speed internet, but that "we just want it to work".