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Govt pushes high speed internet into rural NZ

The government today announced the first major step in a nationwide project aimed at lifting education and economic development in regional New Zealand, with the launch of high speed internet access to the Waikato, Taranaki and Wellington regions.

Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton and Education Minister Trevor Mallard today named Telecom, in partnership with BCL, as the preferred supplier for the delivery of broadband internet in the three regions, as part of Project PROBE.

Announcements about the Project PROBE rollout to the eight remaining regions will follow in the coming months.

"Today's announcement is the first major step in bringing broadband coverage to all rural areas, opening up significant and exciting opportunities for businesses, schools, students and rural communities. By the end of 2004 every region will have high speed internet access," the ministers said.

"Our government is spending tens of millions of dollars on this project. It is a critical infrastructure investment that will ensure students and families, businesspeople and workers will have the same opportunities, in education and in economic development, regardless of where they live and work."

Jim Anderton said the rollout would have a significant impact on economic development in regional New Zealand.

"This is excellent news for regional economies and New Zealand's economic growth. High speed internet access will reduce isolation and break down barriers to world markets.

"It will enable rural businesses to access quickly and efficiently all the resources and business information that's available on the internet. It means rural businesses will be able to tap into the same internet capability as businesses in the cities," he said.

Trevor Mallard said the rollout would benefit thousands of students in hundreds of rural schools around New Zealand once completed in 2004.

"Broadband internet will open up huge opportunities for students and schools in remote and isolated country regions opportunities that students in urban areas already have. For instance, it means a specialist subject teacher in Auckland will be able to teach students in the most far-flung places in New Zealand.

"Students will be able to access a much wider range of subject choices, they will be able to take part in video conferencing, and they will be able to quickly access education resources on the internet.

"For teachers it means access to digital teaching resources, and online professional development. They'll be able to hook up with the experts in their subject area, and colleagues all over New Zealand."

The ministers said the extension of broadband coverage would bring enhanced benefits to rural communities in the form of improved access to health and social services, and to the wide range of other public services and information that is already on the internet.

"Telecom has been selected as the preferred vendor in the Waikato, Taranaki and Wellington (including Kapiti and Horowhenua) regions because it met all the tender criteria including price, coverage, service quality and future upgrade capability in the competitive tendering process.

"Negotiations are continuing with Telecom with a view to signing the contract shortly.

"Consultation with vendors and regional liaison groups in the eight remaining regions ? West Coast, Otago, Manawatu, Bay of Plenty, Auckland, Canterbury, Nelson/Tasman/Marlborough and Gisborne/HawkesBay, is ongoing and further announcements will be made over the coming months," the ministers said.

The tender process remains commercially sensitive and while it is still in progress no figures for the overall cost of the project will be released.

Eds: The ministers launched the Project PROBE rollout today from the Waikato and the Taranaki. Trevor Mallard made this announcement at Meremere School in the Waikato, while Jim Anderton made the announcement at a regional broadband forum at Plymouth International, New Plymouth.

Questions and Answers

What is Project PROBE? Project PROBE is a major government initiative. It stands for Provincial Broadband Extension and has been developed jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economic Development.

How will it operate? 14 geographical regions have been established throughout New Zealand, with a 15th region to provide national satellite coverage for those schools where a terrestrial solution would be impractical.

The 14 regions are: Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Hawkes Bay/Gisborne, Taranaki, Manawatu/Wanganui, Wairarapa, Wellington/Kapiti/Horowhenua, Nelson/Tasman/Marlborough, West Coast, Canterbury (including Chatham Island), Otago, and Southland.

Three of the regions Southland, Wairarapa and Northland, elected to proceed with independent tendering processes with the understanding that, provided government objectives for Project PROBE were met, funding from the PROBE project would be available to meet at least some of their costs. These three regions are working with WalkerWireless.

Why has it been developed? Recent research and regional broadband pilots have shown that demand in New Zealand for high speed internet access is rapidly increasing, as is the capability to utilise it.

The education sector's projected demand for downloading graphic intensive learning objects, two-way video conferencing and high intensity classroom use position it well to lead the rollout of broadband into regions.

Almost all schools are now connected to the internet, but many schools in provincial areas are affected by very slow connection speeds or cannot afford the available high-speed connections.

As a result the Internet is not being used as an integral teaching, professional development or administration tool in these schools.

What are the benefits? Internet access helps students to become 'digitally literate', self-directed life-long learners.

Broadband access will enable teaching and learning to become more effective and school administration more efficient. Learning will be helped by equitable access to internet resources, communication and other online tools. Professional development opportunities for teachers will also be enhanced.

Pilots at rural schools have successfully shown that broadband-enabled two-way video conferencing can allow school subjects like advanced sciences and mathematics and Te Reo to be taught to learners in very remote schools.

Project PROBE is intended to ensure that all schools, in particular provincial schools, will have sufficient bandwidth to meet their needs.

The bandwidth will also be available to others in the communities - libraries, farmers, local government, marae, welfare agencies, community services and home users. It is up to those groups to maximise the available benefits.

This broadband access will assist regional economic growth and development. Having access to broadband means increased effectiven



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