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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.

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