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By SHELLEY TOPP

A leading North Canterbury exporter is struggling to grow the business because of a lack of cellphone reception and broadband service.

Eyrewell’s Angus Robertson Mechanical (ARM) manager Seamus Robertson says it is a crazy situation.

West Eyreton-Eyrewell is one of the fastest growing areas in New Zealand, but the “complete lack of infrastructure in the area is ridiculous”, he says.

“I have travelled extensively in the developing world and they have better cellphone coverage. We have had to purchase a cellphone booster but this only covers a tiny area,” he says.

“We live 30kms from the centre of Christchurch and we cannot even have a cellphone conversation. If there were mountains in the way the problem would be understandable, but we are in the middle of the Canterbury Plains.”

ARM specialises in designing and making rollforming and coil processing machinery. The business was established by Mr Robertson’s father, Angus, in a small shed in the backyard of the family home at Eyrewell during 1993.

ARM now generates about $2 million in export earnings annually and employs 40 full-time staff (plus two part-timers), including seven experienced design and manufacturing engineers, lead by Angus.

ARM has clients throughout New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Ghana. However, the telecommunications problem in Eyrewell is a huge handicap for the business. “We have three service/maintenance staff who constantly cannot get in contact with clients, and possibly even more concerning our clients cant reach our maintenance team while they are here in Eyrewell, and clients often require urgent service,” Mr Robertson says.

“This is hurting our development and potential growth.”

He has made numerous complaints about the problem to telecommunications provider Spark New Zealand and has been told by the company’s South Island chief Paul Deavoll that the Eyrewell-West Eyreton area is a black spot for mobile-phone reception.

He doesn’t blame Spark New Zealand for the problem. All of New Zealand’s three main telecommunications providers Spark New Zealand, Vodafone New Zealand and 2degrees are to blame for not providing the service, he says. However, he believes there is a simple solution.

“I think all three of them should get together and put up a cellphone tower because if they want customers they should do something about it.”

Mr Robertson says he has not contacted any of the other telecommunications companies about the problem because they aren’t providing cellphone reception in the area either and Spark is ARMs provider.

“We have three landlines and six cellphones (which a lot of the time we cant use) with Spark,” he says.

A few weeks ago he thought a solution might finally be near when Mr Deavoll phoned him to say that the West Eyreton-Eyrewell area was earmarked for a cellphone tower.

“Great I thought.”

But when he asked for a timeframe on the project he was told it would be “within the next five years.

“I understand the constraints on infrastructure. But we are trying to do business with sub third-world infrastructure,” he says.

“Is it too much to ask for the ability to use a mobile phone for business? We need fibre broadband too.”

But Mr Robertson says he is guessing the timeframe for that will be next century.

“If we are lucky.”