Local bodies fear broadband rollout being rushed

Regional groups fear the government may be rushing its broadband internet access rollout.

Regional groups fear the government may be rushing its broadband internet access rollout.

Responses to a request for information from potential service providers originally had to be in by August 26, but the deadline has now been extended to September 9. Regional groups already had a few more weeks to provide extra detail on the demand for broadband in their localities.

The issue surfaced at a meeting of local e-government initiatives in Wellington last week, at which State Services Minister Trevor Mallard highlighted the rollout as one of several e-government initiatives.

“The initiative, which was announced in the budget, will bring two-way high-speed — at least 512kbit/s for secondary schools — internet access to most schools by the end of 2003, and to all schools by 2004,” Mallard told the meeting. The minister says rural and provincial businesses will also benefit.

Speaking before the announcement of the extension Steve Canny, chairman of the national broadband steering group, said he feared the timetable set by the government might not give enough time for regional groups to give the Ministry of Economic Development sufficient or accurate details of their broadband requirements.

Canny, policy manager for Venture Southland, says the forum, which provided an update of progress for the regions, revealed that some regions haven’t “grabbed the significance and an understanding of the opportunities” arising from the rollout.

Furthermore, some local bodies and development agencies say having one more month was insufficient time to provide enough information on their area needs. Therefore the rollout may not be at the level needed and it would be unlikely the government would provide extra funding in future if it was needed, he says. “A bit of additional time in the planning phase, a few weeks, may make a large difference to how effective services deployed are going to be,” Canny says.

The regions would work faster and harder to meet the time frames set, he says, even if it leads to incomplete reports.

Canny says forum members also see the government’s “Probe” broadband rollout initiative as a short-term solution. They say better technologies and faster bandwidths will be needed in future, so technologies used will have to be scalable. Service providers will also have to be committed to long-term investment and offer services to fringe areas. “Short-term profit maximisation is fine and dandy but often the networks get run down and there is not reinvestment,” he says.

The regions also have to develop strong partnerships with government, local community organisations and service providers.

“They have to have enduring partnerships, not Johnny-come-lately partnerships,” Canny says.

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