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Central Otago has come out ahead of its neighbours in the screen-time stakes – despite its relatively lower population.

Latest figures from Chorus show the region’s reliance on high-speed broadband connectivity shows no sign of letting up as digital lifestyles increasingly become the norm.

Despite lockdown restrictions easing, Central Otago residents’ data consumption continues to speed up, not slow down.

The average Central Otago home and small business used 317 gigabytes (gb) of broadband data in October this year compared to 255gb in 2019, an increase of 36%.

Chorus network strategy manager Kurt Rodgers believes our expanding data consumption has put connectivity at the fore of what is essential in our home and working lives.

In the first six weeks of the recent lockdown, Chorus fixed networks carried more than an exabyte, or one billion gigabytes, of data.

That amounts to more than all the data carried in 2015, the year Netflix launched in New Zealand.

“Lockdown forced us to change our online behaviours and adopt more digital tools and services in many aspects of our life,” Mr Rodgers said.

“Video calling, in particular, has absolutely become the new norm, and it’s not just for working from home and learning – it’s also for keeping in touch with friends and family.”

Increased video usage drove more demand for data, and with that, heightened demand for faster and reliable fibre broadband, he said.

Nationally, the average New Zealand household used about 515gb of broadband data in October this year compared with 329gb at the same time in 2019, an increase of 57%.

The demand for data shows no signs of slowing, prompting Chorus to announce its largest-ever performance upgrade for fibre customers.

Central Otago District Council (CODC) economic development manager Nick Lanham said the increase in the region’s usage was a great result and reflected not only population growth, but people changing how they used the internet.

“Access to internet is an enabler for our community and this shows we are using it,” he said.

“People are using the internet more in their everyday lives – streaming TV, video calling friends and family.”

During the first lockdown Central Otago was one of the districts with the largest percentage increase in internet usage. Covid-19 had accelerated some emerging trends – including an increase in remote working in the region, Mr Lanham said.

Before the pandemic, CODC undertook research into remote working in the region, publishing its report in February last year – one month before the country went into its first Level 4 Lockdown.

“At the time of the research, we defined remote working as residents who lived in the Central Otago District but who earned some or all of their income outside the area.”

“I’m sure if it was repeated now we would see a higher number of responses and a greater awareness of remote working,” he said.

Mr Lanham believed this was due to a combination of lockdowns forcing businesses to adapt to working from home which in turn gave them confidence to let staff work remotely or hire staff based remotely.

Record low national unemployment levels were also encouraging businesses to take on staff based remotely in order to get the skills they need.

“And the final supporting factor is Central Otago remains a very desirable place to live, and the rollout of ultrafast broadband is better enabling people to work remotely from here,” he said.

“The increase in internet usage is exciting to see as it does show our community is adopting technology and the opportunities that it enables.”

COMPARISON OF CHORUS NETWORK DATA USAGE

Region                  Oct 2019    Oct 2021    Increase

Central Otago       233gb          317gb         36%

Waitaki District    241gb          313gb         30%

QT Lakes District  322gb          378gb         17%

Dunedin City         328gb          421gb         28%

Clutha District       236gb          309gb         31%