South Waikato persists without Probe

South Waikato District Council, an unsuccessful bidder for Project Probe funds, says it will press on regardless with its broadband internet access rollout.

South Waikato District Council, an unsuccessful bidder for Project Probe funds, says it will press on regardless with its broadband internet access rollout.

The government last week awarded funding to a BCL-Telecom bid for the provision of high-speed internet services to schools in the Waikato, Wellington and Taranaki regions (see Telecom-BCL score Probe wins). Successful bidders in eight other regions will be announced in the next few months, says education minister Trevor Mallard.

The South Waikato council this month decided to underwrite to the tune of $750,000 on a wireless network which it says will provide coverage for 95% of the district’s population. Economic development manager Noel Ferguson says, while not wanting to “rain on anyone’s parade”, he is concerned that a project intended to increase competition results in contracts going to the incumbent provider for three regions.

“I don’t see the logic in that. How does that increase competition?”

Ferguson is also critical of the technology choice: what he calls a “closed proprietary approach” instead of the council’s intended deployment of an 802.11b Wi-Fi-based network.

Mallard named the three contract winners at Meremere Primary School in the Waikato. They’ll receive an undisclosed sum to roll out a broadband wireless network to schools, hospitals and community centres in the region.

Meremere’s school has been affected in the past by the closure of the largest employer in the region, the power station. With a roll of only 45 children the school and community has come perilously close to extinction, but principal Heather Green says this year has seen a turnaround.

“Our roll is growing again, we’ve had five children join this week alone, and with the new prison being built in the region we’ll see more people in the community.”

Green is looking forward to the establishment of the wireless connection, something that should happen relatively quickly.

“We’ve got support from Waikato University and they’ve offered to come and network the classrooms for us and they’ve also donated several PCs, which is great.”

Green says the school will soon be eligible for an additional teacher and having the ability to offer professional development online from Meremere will be a big drawcard.

Wired Country, the broadband network offshoot of electricity provider Counties Power, didn’t bid for the Waikato tender but general manager Mike Lancaster says he’s pleased with the outcome.

“BCL’s network is a robust platform and Telecom, of course, knows what it’s doing.”

Lancaster says he doesn’t know why the government has delayed announcing the remaining regions, including those that Wired Country has bid for, but that even a delay of several months won’t put it behind. The government’s expectation is that Probe winners will be operational by the end of next year.

“We planned for a March launch anyway so a few months won’t be a problem.”

Mallard says there was no point in delaying announcements in regions where bidders had “sharpened their pencils the most”.

Probe funding in three other regions — Northland, Wairarapa and Southland — has been awarded to Vodafone and Walker Wireless.

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