Regions urged to take back broadband ball

Regional businesses and communities are being encouraged to make practical use of the broadband capacity that has arisen out of Probe and related regional initiatives.

Regional businesses and communities are being encouraged to make practical use of the broadband capacity that has arisen out of Probe and related regional initiatives.

The regions, conscious of a need to rebuild local industry after years of economic slide, began the impetus that culminated in the Probe project. But it’s now up to the regions to take the ball back again and use broadband for practical economic, social and community development, says Chris Matthews, steering committee member for e-regions.

E-regions, a new community-driven organisation, is in the process of formulating a strategic plan -- after consultation with government, private industry and the regions from late last year and with more consultation to come -- and putting together a business case.

The new body aims quickly to spark practical demonstrations of the utility of broadband. E-regions “stakeholders” -- communities, industry and government agencies -- have been invited to submit broadband projects to the steering committee, for final selection later this month.

There could be as many as a hundred projects in the first year, Mathews says. Four have already been agreed on:

  • a diabetes management project with the Ministry of Health

  • a managed supply chain for small and medium businesses operating in North America;

  • a work/life balance project, with associated promotion of regional locations for business and industry;

  • a local government project to rationalise services between regional and district councils.
The organisation scheduled an official kick-off on February 26 in Wellington, though may not take place on that date, Mathews says. A lot of communication remains to be done with communities, industry and government, and work finishing off the strategy.

It wants to interface not only with the various industry sectors and communities but also mesh in with and influence government’s evolving ICT strategy for the next few years.

A wealth of initiatives has been undertaken to push ICT and a developing broadband infrastructure as an integral part of a growing economy. E-regions’ introductory document cites some of these: “Broadband Pilots, the Broadband Forum, the TUANZ National Broadband Applications Project, Project Probe, ECAT [the E-Commerce Action Team], the Government’s eBusiness Strategy and Unit, Local Government NZ’s e-Local Government strategy, and the Growth and Innovation Framework.”

Mathews, however, says e-regions will “build beyond” these initiatives to derive practical benefit for the regions. E-regions’ focus is there, he says, rather than with what the figures of the ICT industry say.

In an apparent effort to include as many regional and sectoral interests as possible, e-regions has a steering committee of 20. This includes some of the luminaries of the regional broadband efforts, such as Mathews, from the Far North Regional Development Trust, and Peter McNeur of Wairarapa; there are central government specialists, SSC’s Colin Jackson and MED’s Frank March, local government represented by Tim Davin. Tony van Horik of Amos Aked Swift, co-ordinating Probe developments, is on the committee, as are Carol Moffat (education) and Mike Rillstone (Health). Bruce Parkes of Telecom and Rob Inglis (pictured) of Woosh Wireless are there as well as former TUANZ chair Judy Speight.

TestraClear did not take part in any Probe projects, so has not become initially involved, but contact has been made with chief executive Rosemary Howard and the company is likely to become involved with the e-regions effort.

The organisation's first effort, in particular, is a striking example of how the infrastructure can deliver real benefit to the population of regions. Maori men have a very high rate of death from diabetes, says Mathews. Communication with GP and hospital, coupled with instruments to measure blood sugar and warn of dangerous levels, will save lives.

On the business side, the supply-chain project is aimed at assisting promotion of small high-value products from small and medium-sized enterprises in the regions to ready markets for such projects along the North American west coast.

An important immediate task will be assembling information on regional initiatives for reports to government and internationally and for the emerging e-regions website.

E-regions’ new year bulletin is here.

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