Regional economic development minister Shane Jones found $2 million in the Provincial Growth Fund for five more digital hubs.
The hubs provide free wi-fi, co-working space and advice for people outside the main centres.
New digital hubs will be at Gisborne, Katikati, Te Kateretanga O Kura-Hau-Pō in Horowhenua, Woodville and Murupara. They will join eight other hubs already planned for Northland, West Coast, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatū-Whanganui-Horowhenua.
This is a sound idea that extends the idea of rural broadband. It’s one thing to deliver connectivity to the bush, it’s another thing to provide hubs where casual users can experience or use the technology.
Some rural users may struggle to pay for an account at first, but need just enough free connectivity to get started. Others may want to try before they buy.
Providing advice is crucial for people who have been underserved with technology in the past. Using broadband may seem straightforward to most users, but it can be daunting for people on the wrong side of the digital divide.
As Jones says: “Improving digital connectivity was flagged as a key area of investment for the PGF as it is a catalyst for economic development and wellbeing, lifts productivity and supports the other investments government is making in the regions through the Provincial Growth Fund.”
There’s a strong case for a similar initiative in less well off parts of urban centres. That money won’t come from the PGF, but now government has accepted the principle of building digital hubs it shouldn’t be too hard to organise.