Broadband pilot success surprises even minister

After visiting the two southern-most broadband pilots, Telecommunications Minister Paul Swain is surprised at the progress being made and expects his 2003 deadline for high-speed internet access to be not only met but beaten.

After visiting the two southern-most broadband pilots, Telecommunications Minister Paul Swain is surprised at the progress being made and expects his 2003 deadline for high-speed internet access to be not only met but beaten.

The government announced several broadband pilots in October last year, saying it wanted access for all New Zealand communities to two-way high-speed internet services — a minimum of 128kbit/s — by the end of 2003.

Swain was in the South Island last week and visited the Otago and Southland pilots.

He says he is surprised by the progress being made in all the pilots, adding there was “a bit of hope” in his original target. “But I now believe that by the end of 2003 we’ll have reached that. We talked and dreamed about the way things might go and we’ve exceeded that.”

The pilots are attempting to aggregate community demand and offer it to telecommunications companies to get the best technology solution.

“They’re in varying degrees of progress but by the middle of the year I’d expect something live. My test is not another report; my test is to be able to go into a farmhouse somewhere, that has had up until then a very poor telecommunication link, and to be able to get on to the internet at the same speed that I can at home.”

The pilots are all attacking the problem slightly differently. Some are targeting provision for schools first by underwriting the cost of installing new technology while others are aiming for a whole-of-community approach and will contract the best solution.

“It just shows that if you put people’s minds to it in a local area driven by necessity — and that necessity is often poor telecommunications services — they’ll come up with an answer much better for the region, much faster than what the government will do.”

He says high-speed access nationwide will be a huge selling point for New Zealand. “If we can solve this by the end of 2003 we will be a world leader. There aren’t many countries who have managed to solve this.”

Venture Southland project manager Stephen Canny says the Southland pilot group had a good discussion with Swain last week.

Canny says Southland is very interested in what happens with spectrum allocation for high-speed wireless communications.

“We believe that the government’s move to set aside spectrum for regional high-speed communication services, particularly in the low-population areas, is an excellent catalyst to roll out high-speed communications in a cost-effective manner in the regions."

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