The South Waikato District Council’s wireless broadband project is nearing the end of its first stage of rollout, and backers are hoping the council will vote to extend its involvement by another $1.8 million. However, ratepayer opposition is expected to be strong.
The council has put $262,000 towards the current stage of the project, which when complete will cover 70% of the district’s population. Completion is expected in early June. Councillors now need to decide whether to extend the project to 95% of the population, and include further services such as voice-over-IP.
The extra work would cost about $1.8 million, economic development manager Noel Ferguson says, and he expects a lot of opposition from ratepayers who want to keep council expenditure to a minimum. The ratio of submissions opposing the larger project would probably be 10-to-one.
“I can understand that. I expect an enormous amount of pressure on the councillors.”
Submissions on the proposal closed last week, and hearings are set for June 10 and 11. A decision will be made by the time the council's final budget is adopted in July.
Ferguson says cost has been kept to a minimum by adopting “commoditised” technology: using public domain protocols and equipment where possible, and following the lead of the market to avoid requiring specialised equipment.
A priority for the project is training users when they join the network.
“People don’t need 200Mbit/s now, they need to understand what it’s like to be in a wireless world,” he says. The project is adding 10 to 20 users each week.
If the council decides against extending the project, a decision would need to be made on the future of the network. Ferguson says options would include setting up a subscriber co-operative, offering the network to a local company or selling it to an overseas investor.
Funding through the government's PROBE broadband rollout scheme has been applied for, but no answer has been given yet.
Col Heke, director of Frecol Computer Consultants, calls the project “a brilliant innovation”. He runs his internet business from Tokoroa, hosting websites in Texas for customers largely based in Queensland.
“The net for me is a pretty vital part of what I do,” he says. “Good on the SWDC for having the guts to go out there and do something like this.”
Heke is keen to see new services rolled out to south Waikato residents, especially voice-over-IP and video. He says the region’s tertiary institutions in particular could benefit from the extra services.
“I think it’s an exciting time, the whole of this technology, for any area really.”