Social housing tenants in Christchurch are still waiting for Enable to honor the promise of free internet

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Fiber company Enable, owned by Christchurch City Council, says providing free internet access to social housing tenants has taken longer and is more complex than it originally thought.

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Fiber company Enable, owned by Christchurch City Council, says providing free internet access to social housing tenants has taken longer and is more complex than it originally thought.

More than 2,000 social housing tenants in Christchurch were promised free internet access in May last year – 14 months later they are still waiting.

Fiber company Enable, owned by Christchurch City Council, announced last year that people living in 2,300 social housing units run by Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust (ŌCHT) were set to get free internet through a decade-long partnership.

The program was introduced to save ŌCHT tenants approximately $22 million in internet costs over 10 years, based on a connection fee of $80 per month.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

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Enable said it still plans to provide home internet service for digitally excluded ŌCHT tenants, but it took longer and was more complex than initially thought.

The company had applied to the government for permission to provide full Internet service itself.

It needed approval as it is a wholesaler rather than an internet service provider, but Enable decided to abandon this approach as it was too complex.

STACY SQUIRES / TRICKS

Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust and Enable are partnering to provide free internet access to all OCHT’s 2,300 tenants. (First published May 2021)

Daniel Herd, head of engagement and sustainability, said the company was now working with industry partners on a solution that would ensure the service was delivered seamlessly and efficiently.

He hoped the service could be provided as soon as possible.

“We are close to being able to share information about our plans and need to share our plans with ŌCHT tenants in the first place.”

Community advocate and ŌCHT tenant Stephen McPaike said a number of his fellow tenants could no longer afford internet access.

“I’ve had people contact me saying they just have to get off the internet. It was internet or food.

He said the internet was an important tool for tenants, especially since many government agencies were now directing people to their websites.

Over 60% of ŌCHT tenants are not connected to the Internet at home.

STACY SQUIRES / Stuff

Over 60% of ŌCHT tenants are not connected to the Internet at home.

Over 60% of ŌCHT tenants are not connected to the internet at home, which is much higher than the 7.5% of the wider community who do not have internet access.

In the meantime, Enable has also been working to roll out free Wi-Fi service in ŌCHT’s 19 common lounges.

Herd said Wi-Fi services in the common living rooms would help these tenants access the internet, as well as support ŌCHT’s current digital training program. Many tenants already had access to a device, but had limited or no internet access.

But McPaike pointed out that not all resorts have common lounges.

ŌCHT chief executive Cate Kearney said she realized setbacks come with innovation, even after months of hard, focused work trying to make things happen.

“Enable’s initial proposal turned out to be complex and we worked with them on alternatives.

“We are confident that we are on the verge of being able to share information on this soon.”

Kearney said she was grateful to Enable for planning to connect communal lounges to free Wi-Fi.

Some tenants had asked why the program hadn’t started yet, and the trust had been updating residents as things progressed, she said.

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