The government is promising most schools will have high-speed two-way internet access by the end of next year, with infrastructure being made available to more remote schools by the end of 2004.
In his budget speech this afternoon Finance Minister Michael Cullen said tens of millions of dollars have been set aside over two years for the major initiative, funded jointly from Vote Education and Vote Economic, Industry and Regional Development. While the early beneficiaries of broadband deployment will be schools, once it is deployed local businesses and most government departments will also start to benefit, he said.
"Broadband is the nervous system of the new economy and is as important to New Zealand as the roads, power lines, railways, and telephone cables were last century."
Cullen says the objective will be attained in a way that "optimises opportunities for communities" to access broadband services as well. "Today's funding is a major step towards that goal."
The government has already funded studies in rural and provincial New Zealand on the impact of broadband on economic development. And it has, in partnership with local communities, funded five regional pilots to test a demand aggregation model whereby communities and schools, health centres, tourist operations, transport companies, libraries, marae and others bundle up their demand for the new telecommunications technology and offer that demand by way of competitive tender to telecommunications companies.
Cullen said the financial resources will be used for a centrally managed series of regional tenders for the provision of broadband infrastructure.
"There will be opportunities for regional and local government and private sector businesses to work in partnership with the government, to ensure that their priorities and interests are met through the rollout of broadband to their area."
This initiative emphasises the growing importance of the links between education and economic development in the new economy, Cullen says.
"If New Zealand needs to be a networked nation, it equally needs to be a learning nation."