The government’s budget night announcement that “tens of millions” of dollars are to be set aside for developing broadband in the regions means existing pilot schemes in six parts of the country will be overridden, says communications minister Paul Swain.
However, that doesn’t mean the pilots were a waste of time and money. The opposite is true, he says.
“The pilots were established to test the demand aggregation model — the pilots, apart from the Far North, won’t be wanting to be responsible as a telco company for the broadband rollout.”
The Far North pilot, being run on the virtual telco model, is the only pilot that could provide the breadth of services required under the budget broadband plans, Swain says.
“I’m sure the Far North will be putting in a tender.”
In other regions where pilots have been operating, the people and knowledge gained in the pilots “will be engaged in the process, because no tenderer will be acceptable unless it can demonstrate and understand that it can cover a wider community than just the schools”.
The first aim of the budget broadband initiative is to get broadband into schools, with the needs of the wider community to be addressed after that.
The pilots pave the way for the budget broadband project, Swain says. “Their job was to create the awareness, get the demand and assist the telco interest.”
They succeeded in that respect, justifying the $350,000 spent on them, Swain says.
“They’ve been instrumental in driving regional demand — they thought beyond the square and engaged BCL etc, looked at wireless options that weren’t around before and there’s been a lot more creative thinking from the telcos than there was even a year ago.”
The success of the pilots is the reason a regional, rather then central, model was chosen for the nationwide rollout, Swain says. “It would have been easier to do it centrally, but the pilots showed that there are different needs in each region — the regions have different geography and population.”
The budget broadband initiative aims to have 90% of the regions covered by 2003, with the remaining 10% the following year.
Swain says he is unaware of any similar model to the pilot scheme elsewhere in the world.
“I looked, but couldn’t find anything — there could be some international interest in this and a lot of those communities have intellectual property that may be of some value.”