470 schools may fall through RBI-UFB cracks

Ministers urged to give timetable for broadband to missed schools

Following the award of contracts for the Rural Broadband Initiative, an analysis has been done showing as many as 470 schools fall into the so-called Zone 3, which is not covered either by the RBI or the urban-based Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) initiative.

Interested parties such as InternetNZ have always known that some schools fall in the boundary zone between the two initiatives, says InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar, but until the RBI information was released it was not known that the number was as large as now appears.

The report, compiled by independent analyst Jonathan Brewer, was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday by opposition ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran, and has now been released jointly by InternetNZ, the Telecommunications users Association (TUANZ) and Federated Farmers, together with their covering letter to ICT Minister Steven Joyce and Education Minister Anne Tolley.

“It has always been the intention that schools within that geographical area would be tendered separately and that’s what’s happened,” Joyce replied in Parliament. “There is no conspiracy here, Ms Curran.” However, he gave no time estimate for such a tender.

The shortcoming seems particularly inequitable, InternetNZ, Tuanz and Federated Farmers say, since 90 percent of the excluded schools are within 2km of an existing Chorus fibre cable. “We therefore believe that most of the 470 schools can be provided broadband connections at a modest cost quickly,” says the letter.

Zone 3 schools are going to be in a worse position than those in the rural Zone 4, the letter says, “even though the former tend to have more students on the roll and more capacity to effectively use the opportunities of fibre broadband.”

The protesting bodies have called on both the Education and ICT Ministers to confirm or repudiate Brewer’s figures, which have been drawn from a number of public sources.

They also ask the ministers to “clarify whether the procurement process for Zone 3 schools missing out has commenced and its timetable. Please also advise if the budget for this initiative has been appropriated. If not, the possibility that the budget may not be available in the future.”

Computerworld has put questions of a similar nature to Joyce’s office and a reply is awaited.

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