Digital divide an issue for UFB rollout: CFH

Rollout should contain equity provision, principal says

An equity provision should be part of the Ultra Fast Broadband rollout to ensure poor, urban communities aren’t last in line for faster broadband, says Russell Burt, principal of Pt England School in Auckland.

Pt England school, a decile one school, is located in what Burt describes as “the most expensive community in New Zealand”. There are more than 18,000 people resident in an area that is 3km by 2km, and the community receives around $150 million each year in the form of goverment assistance such as social welfare.

Burt says it isn’t only his community, but other dense low-income, urban areas such as Cannons Creek in Wellington and Flaxmere in the Hawkes Bay that should — if not be prioritised in the UFB rollout — at least not be the last to be connected.

“I think there needs to be an equity provision because the roll out is commercially designed. I understand that because 50 percent of the money comes out of commerce [that is the companies partnering with Crown Fibre Holdings] and they need a commercial return on their installation so they can do the next part,” he says.

“But I think there needs to be provision for low-decile communities in urban settings, so that they’re not just going to be last because it follows a commercial model.”

Burt was speaking to Computerworld following a presentation by students to a group which included representatives from Telecom, TUANZ, Crown Fibre Holdings, NZICT and Alcatel-Lucent. The occasion was the launch of Alcatel-Lucent’s booklet on the UFB.

His school has become a magnet for telco industry and government agencies seeking to learn more about how technology can benefit children from lower socio economic areas. At the presentation 10 and 11-year-old children demonstrated the use of podcasting, video, Google apps, with one student providing a succinct, clear definition of cloud computing and the benefits of virtualisation. In 2006 the school won a Computerworld Excellence Award for its podcasting.

CFH strategy director Rohan McMahon, who spoke to Computerworld at the presentation says the issues raised by Burt are valid.

“We’re certainly looking at the digital divide in terms of how we optimise the roll out and I certainly see schools as being an important part of that.”

CFH is working with the Ministry of Education’s Principal’s reference group, McMahon says, that advises on UFB to schools.

Pt England school is among seven schools taking part in the Manaikulani Tamaki Learning Net (MTLN). It’s part of the Tamaki Transformation Programme, an urban renewal project in the suburbs of Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure. Launched in April 2010 it involves a number of different government agencies led by the Minister of Housing.

A pilot programme beginning in February involves leasing 500 netbooks which have been procured by Edtech, with Equico managing the leases.

Tamaki Transformation communications manager Claire Watts says of those 500 netbooks, 60 will be given to children as a trial. They can take them home, and their families will be able to access the internet through a wi-fi cloud that is an extension of their school’s WAN.

As part of the project, up to 20 antennaes are being built on houses owned by the Housing Corporation (56 percent of homes in the Tamaki Transformation area are state housing).

“The cost to expand the WAN for the pilot area is around $180,000, this will test the design and range of the broadband network,” Watts says. “Other costs incurred are beyond the pilot and include professional development for the teachers, research and evaluation of education results.”

Watts says the project is being paid for in part by private benefactors.

Pt England school has a symmetrical 10Mbit/s data radio connection that was installed in a partnership that included TelstraClear, the Ministry of Education and Connector Systems.

Burt says that many in the community don’t have a landline, let alone an internet connection.

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Tags Crown Fibre HoldingsUFBcfhpt england school

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