Missing schools to get broadband

ICT Minister announces two tenders to fill the gaps between UFB and RBI

ICT Minister Steven Joyce has announced two requests for registration of interest (ROIs) leading to tenders which, he says, will fill the remaining gaps in the broadband schools network.

One covers the schools falling mostly into the so-called Zone 3 – not urban enough to be covered by the Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) contracts, yet not rural enough to come under the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI). According to Joyce, the first ROI document will cover 192 schools, “predominantly in Zone 3”.

“The RBI contract signed with Vodafone and Chorus focussed on Zone 4 schools,” says a spokeswoman for the minister; “however it made sense to include some other schools also (for example schools in Te Puke which are in Zone 3 are being connected by Chorus under the existing contract). The UFB was based around 33 candidate areas which, were not a perfect match for Zones 1 and 2 (for example Gore, which is in Zone 2, was not a UFB candidate area).

“Of the 192 schools, there are nine schools that are in Zone 2 and were not covered by the UFB contracts. These schools are located in Gore, Diamond Harbour, and Governors Bay.”

The second ROI covers the “non-fibre” (probably wireless) broadband networking of 60 schools too remote to be reached by fibre

A study earlier this year, conducted by analyst Jonathan Brewer, and put to Joyce by InternetNZ, TUANZ and Federated Farmers, identified 470 schools it said were not covered by current arrangements. Joyce replied in May, indicating that the analysis was flawed.

“[It] did not take into account schools that already had fibre connections, schools covered by the UFB or the 60 remote schools,” says the Minister’s spokeswoman

“With the UFB, the RBI contracts with Vodafone and Chorus and these two ROIs combined, all New Zealand schools will have access to improved broadband services,” she adds. In his reply to TUANZ, InternetNZ and Federated Farmers on May 27, ICT Minister Steven Joyce referred to 303 schools in Brewer’s total as “part of a planned procurement activity next year.” The beginning of that activity appeared early, this week, but the numbers seem inconsistent at first, with only 192 schools named in one of this week’s ROIs, together with 60 in the other, to be connected by “non-fibre” means. The latter were separately categorised in Joyce’s May letter. Chris Bishop, at the Ministry of Economic Development explains the difference in the fibre-connected school numbers. “The numbers in Mr Joyce’s letter were accurate as at the date of the letter,” he writes in an email. “Since [that time], the deployment plans for the UFB have firmed up which means that some Zone 3 schools have come into the scope of the UFB and some schools assumed to be in the scope of the UFB have moved into the RBI area. “However, the key difference in the numbers is that the government negotiated a clause in the April RBI contract that meant Telecom was not allowed to use RBI funds to connect any schools that had already been connected to open access fibre or had subsequently closed. That clause required Telecom to use any cost savings to be applied to Zone 3 schools. A total of 30 schools were removed from the original scope and were replaced with a net 99 additional schools. This means Telecom must connect up a total of 847 rural schools under its existing RBI contract. “Also, MED has removed all schools in Zone 3 towns that already have open access fibre connections. This means that the government will not unnecessarily overbuild existing fibre networks to schools,” Bishop writes. Brewer points out he did not say these schools would be deprived of broadband He quotes his original blog post attached to the analysis: "Based on documents released at the conclusion of negotiations for the RBI however, it is apparent that close to 470 schools, servicing 108,000 students, will get no fibre at all through the current process." “I stand by that claim,” Brewer says. “New processes have been initiated to provide broadband (not necessarily fibre) to the remainder of the schools.” Funding for the development will come out of the exiting RBI provision, says the minister’s spokeswoman. “$300 million has been allocated to the RBI. $285 million of this has been used to fund the contract with Vodafone and Chorus. The two [latest] ROIs will be funded by the balance of RBI funding: $15 million.” Schools are not the only beneficiaries of the RBI contracts, Joyce’s representative says. “The RBI community objective was to connect 80 percent of rural households to peak speeds of at least 5Mbps. This objective was met (and surpassed) by the contract already signed with Chorus and Vodafone which will see 86 percent of rural New Zealanders able to access broadband services at urban level pricing. “In saying that, the tender documents allow for homes and businesses that are located on the route of new fibre being deployed using grant funding to be connected to fibre (if requested by a retail service provider). This requirement is over and above the requirements of the policy but is consistent with the contract signed with Telecom in April.”

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