Phone failures irk isolated community

'We just kept getting fobbed off'

SUSAN STRONGMAN
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013
Shane and Melanie Rawlinson
ROBERT CHARLES/ FAIRFAX NZ

OFF LINE: Shane and Melanie Rawlinson, with daughter Morgan, 4, say the phone service to Matau needs a fix. 

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Residents of remote Matau are pleading for a permanent fix to their phone lines, which are sometimes out for weeks at a time.

Melanie and Shane Rawlinson, and their three children are one of about 20 families in the eastern Taranaki community.

They said Matau had had no telephone line for the past fortnight until lines company Chorus restored the service on Tuesday afternoon.

"They [Chorus] just propped up the pole a bit higher," Mr Rawlinson said.

The 33-year-old farmer said the isolated community 20 kilometres west of Whangamomona had no cellphone coverage and often lost its phone lines during high winds or rain.

The lines had gone dead for several weeks last year and Mr Rawlinson said Chorus needed to come up with a more permanent solution than propping up the line.

"This is the second year they've done it. It needs a major overhaul or they'll be back next Christmas," he said.

Chorus said yesterday it was looking for a permanent solution and would keep residents in the loop.

Mrs Rawlinson was concerned about the safety of their children and their 80-year-old neighbour.

"We have no cellphone coverage here, so if something happened to the kids while they were at school, no-one would be able to get hold of me."

At the house down the road, Kath Evans' phone had a dial tone yesterday but the line was scratchy.

"I'd always thought if anything happened to me I would be able to get to the phone," she said. "But then the phone cut out for two weeks."

Mrs Rawlinson had found it frustrating trying to get the problem fixed.

She called Slingshot, her service provider, when the phone first went dead.

Slingshot reported the fault to Chorus but the line was not fixed.

When the Rawlinsons did get hold of Chorus, they were told trees in a pine plantation the lines passed through had caused the outage.

"Chorus said the owners of the plantation needed to keep the trees off the lines but the landowners don't live here, they don't care," she said.

The Rawlinsons said that to get cellphone reception they had to climb to the top of a steep hill behind their house.

One of the valley's residents had to drive for 25 minutes to get coverage.

In her frustration, Mrs Rawlinson spoke to Stratford's Mayor, Neil Volzke, the police and the news media.

The community submitted a petition to MP Shane Ardern and Mrs Rawlinson went into the Chorus New Plymouth office on Tuesday morning.

"There was no-one there.

"I didn't know where else to go to get something done; we just kept getting fobbed off," she said.

When she arrived home that afternoon the line had been repaired. "It was a fix-up job to stop us complaining," Mr Rawlinson said.

A Chorus spokeswoman told The Daily News the pine plantation owners did not want their trees trimmed and the delay had been caused by attempts to find an alternative solution.

She said possible solutions were replacing the pole with a taller one or negotiating the removal of the trees that had damaged the line.

Chorus had worked with "a number of the affected customers to provide temporary communications equipment".

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"We have a temporary solution in place now which has restored service to those customers and will be able to update affected customers again once a permanent solution has been reached."

- Taranaki Daily News

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