BUDGET: Tens of millions for rural broadband in budget

A sum between $20 million and $99 million has been set aside in the budget for the development of broadband networks to serve regional New Zealand, education minister Trevor Mallard told Computerworld yesterday.

A sum between $20 million and $99 million has been set aside in the budget for the development of broadband networks to serve regional New Zealand, education minister Trevor Mallard told Computerworld yesterday.

“It’s in the contingency section of the budget and is being held back as a commercially sensitive figure,” says Mallard.

If a specific figure was named, Mallard says, tenderers would be discouraged from putting in proposals below that figure.

The money will come from the education ministry and industry and regional development funds and confidential pre-tender briefings have already been held with some telcos.

A project manager and project auditor have also been appointed.

The full tender process will be in two stages, Mallard says, with the first involving proposals for each of the 20 regions that the project will be divided into.

“We’ll have a look at the tenders, but won’t have any access to who the tenderers are – we’ll look at the shape of the proposals, come up with a preferred shape then re-tender.”

Timing for the tender process hasn’t been finalised, but Mallard says the project is to be substantially completed by the end of 2003 and totally finished the following year.

While the network will build on existing projects such as the broadband pilots in Northland, Southland and Otago and be targeted initially at schools, other users in the regions will be able to use it.

“We will be able to run networked e-government services, both government agency-to-government agency and [to] government-citizen, at a much higher level.

“When you run a service into a community, a whole lot of people want to use it.”

At the same time the government is planning this regional network, Fonterra has a similar undertaking aimed at farmers.

Mallard says the government has gone ahead with its own network because the Fonterra network, initially aimed to be 64Kbit/s, wouldn’t be fast enough for the two-way interaction required for education.

“If you’re doing distance teaching over a video link, you can’t do it with 64Kbit/s.”

Fonterra’s network is to be scaleable and so is the government’s.

“You may get 512Kbit/s in one region, but then demand may grow for 1Mbit/s.”

Mallard likens the building of a regional broadband network to the building of roads and railways under Julius Vogel in the 19th century.

Other education IT initiatives to get a boost in the budget are laptops for high school teachers and professional development for teachers.

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