Probe delayed, but on track

The government's broadband initiative, Project Probe, is behind schedule because of protracted contract negotiations. Most of the tenders have yet to be signed, despite the Project Probe webpage listing August last year as the date for signing of the contracts.

The government's broadband initiative, Project Probe, is behind schedule because of protracted contract negotiations.

Most of the Project Probe tenders, to provide broadband access for schools and communities in the regions, have yet to be signed despite the Project Probe webpage listing August last year as the date for signing of the contracts.

Rollout to the majority of schools and communities was to have been completed by last November with the "remaining schools and communities" wired up by November this year.

One of the Probe tender winners, Nelson-based ThePacific.Net says the time is rapidly approaching where the contract will be either too costly to fulfill or will fail to meet its deadline, says managing director Steve Christie.

"We could just about do with hiring a couple of helicopters to fly us about the place to get the work done."

Christie says the contracts fall into two halves - one half general to every region and one half specific.

"We signed off on the specific half as quickly as possible but there seems to be a lot of wrangling over the general half. Just today I've received a copy of it that I think could well be the final version and we'll sign it and send it back immediately," he said yesterday.

Christie says he's confident the project will meet the deadline of November this year for all the schools to be connected, but only if the contracts are signed as soon as possible.

Telecom's general manager for government relations, Bruce Parkes, is confident Telecom will sign its contracts within the next week or so.

"It's in pretty good shape. We're just working out the logistics of managing eight contracts and then we'll be hunky dory."

Telecom is already working on the network in some areas and shouldn't be delayed in the final roll out, says Parkes.

Trevor Mallard is the lead minister for Project Probe and his press secretary refused to comment on delays, referring Computerworld to the Ministry of Education. However, ministry spokeswoman Christine Seymour says there hasn't been any slippage in signing of the contracts.

"There have been no delays."

But Seymour agrees the Probe time line does say all contracts would be signed off by August last year.

"Yes. That would have been nice."

Seymour says contract negotiations always take a while and Probe is still on track to meet its final deadline of November this year.

"As I understand it the rollout is happening anyway. They're not waiting for the contracts. This is a competitive environment and that's what's driving it."

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