Teen gets Tapawera talking

Battle for cellphone coverage pays off

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 12:57 12/07/2013
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MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
GIDDAY: Tapawera Area School student Matt Ball is pleased to finally receive cellphone reception in Tapawera and the surrounding area.

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For Tapawera Area School student Matt Ball, having full bars on his mobile phone's screen means more than just an ability to text - it means victory.

Tapawera, 30 kilometres southwest of Nelson, has never had adequate cellphone reception, with teenagers often resorting to heading to Tapawera Bridge to find a signal.

In early 2011 Matt, aged 16, began a campaign to pressure telecommunications providers into building sites to service the town, saying a lack of service affected socialisation, safety and business.

He generated a groundswell of community support through his Facebook page, Tapawera Cellphone Coverage Campaign, and kept in regular contact with both Telecom and Vodafone, pressuring them to install a cellphone tower.

Now a $350,000 mobile tower, built by Telecom, has gone live, giving about 600 locals and visitors 3G coverage for voice, mobile broadband and text services.

The tower provides Telecom service to the town and for 6km northwest of Tapawera, along the Motueka Valley Highway and southeast along State Highway 6 as far as the North Rd turnoff.

Coverage extends another 7km down Valley Rd almost as far as Golden Downs and along State Highway 6 past the Atapo turnoff.

It is also expected that major parts of Tadmor and Matariki will receive good coverage.

The site is not part of the Government's rural broadband initiative rollout scheme.

Speaking from his cellphone yesterday afternoon, Matt said it was a great feeling knowing that the campaign had been successful.

"You have worked for something and it's followed through."

It was "a bit weird" being able to use his cellphone all the time, he said.

"You're lying in bed and you get a text and you think, ‘oh, that's right, I can talk to people'."

"Something needed to happen and nobody else was doing it, so why not me?"

But he was not finished with the campaign just yet - he still had to get Vodafone to install its own tower.

Matt's father, Colin, who runs campground Tapawera Settle, said he was proud of the way his son had pushed away at the issue.

Modern infrastructure was essential for the town, he said.

"I don't like mobile phones myself that much, but they are a modern necessity.

"It's high on everyone's agenda when there's no coverage; it's only when it's not there when there's a lot of talk."

He also praised the Nelson Mail, saying continued coverage of the issue had helped the cause.

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Telecom community relations manager Emma Blackmore said it was important communities were able to access mobile services.

"This investment will ensure those who live, work and travel through this area will be able to make the most of what the Telecom Smartphone Network can offer."

Vodafone is understood to be working on building a site to service the town as part of the rural broadband initiative.

But a time has not yet been given for the move.

- Nelson

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