More than one Project Probe winner likely

The final list of Project Probe winners is before cabinet and although project manager Tony van Horik wouldn't give away any names, he did suggest there will be more than one winner.

The final list of Project Probe winners is before cabinet and although project manager Tony van Horik wouldn't give away any names, he did suggest there will be more than one winner.

Project Probe is the government's initiative to promote the development of broadband in New Zealand. With a budget of "tens of millions of dollars", Probe is supposed to ensure that all New Zealand schools have access to broadband capacity by the end of next year.

Van Horik, whose consultancy firm Amos Aked Swifft has the project manager's role for Project Probe, was speaking at the fourth annual Telecommunications and ICT conference in Auckland held this week. He says Probe has two main objectives and that he has focused as closely as possible on those.

"The first is to increase the reach of broadband in New Zealand." Van Horik says Probe is designed to take broadband into those parts of the country that are deemed non-economically viable - this, he says, is something that needs to be done as schools rely more and more on broadband capability for their teaching activities.

"The second objective is to enhance competition outside the metropolitan areas." While competition in the main centres' central business districts can be quite fierce at times, beyond the city limits there is relatively little choice for users. Van Horik hopes that Probe will change that.

Van Horik says Probe won't finish once the winners have been chosen - the government will require a certain level of service to be delivered to each school to ensure they are all up to the same standard.

"Because we're likely to see different suppliers in different regions there will be issues with service supply that will need to be sorted out." This would indicate that no one tender will win all of the remaining regions.

So far the Walker Wireless/Vodafone partnership has won three tenders that were awarded separately to the rest of Project Probe. Three regions decided to chose their own suppliers and each has independently reached the same conclusion. Van Horik says there 12 tenders received and several regions were hotly contested with up to eight proposals on the table.

The winners of the remaining 11 tenders, along with the newly created 15th region which covers the most remote parts of the country, is expected to be announced by the government by the middle of July. Once contracts have been signed the winners have until the end of 2004 to get their networks up and running.

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