Uncertainty surrounds broadband allocations

There is still uncertainty and potential for dispute over allocation of the government's rural broadband facilitation grants, particularly in the South Island.

There is still uncertainty and potential for dispute over allocation of the government’s rural broadband facilitation grants, particularly in the South Island.

Southland is one of six areas favoured by the government’s $300,000 total incentive to facilitate high-speed internet links to distant and rural areas.

Southland District Council broadband advocate Steve Canny hopes to see the funds flowing to the established Otago-Southland Communications Committee, but the government believes Otago is already well resourced. It is not mentioned in the list of six areas promised funding.

Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton’s press secretary, John Pagani, says Otago was not chosen because there is already a joint project in place between the Otago Community Trust and Telecom.

Specific target agencies have not yet been firmly chosen, he says. "We're inviting proposals." But some sources in the regions think differently. Computerworld understands that the joint Otago-Southland effort will receive the "Southland" share and that the Otago Community Trust effort will proceed separately with no government funding.

The proposal to fund a facilitator in each of up to six regions comes at the right time for a joint Otago-Southland effort, Canny says.

“We’ve made a huge effort in multi-sector research – in tourism, education, health and individual communities, among others - getting an idea of consumers’ current and future needs and their current technological capabilities.” Now is the right time to proceed to the next stage, an implementation plan, and government funding of a facilitator is likely to be “very helpful”.

However, he says, there are a lot of points still to be dealt with. Effective interconnect agreements among telcos must be in place. On this front he is optimistic about the force of the forthcoming Telecommunications Act and the telecommunications commissioner.

Telecom must be made to stick to its Kiwi Share obligations, he says.

“We would like to see designation of spectrum in the 3.5GHz region [as a service to be provided as of right under the act].” Wireless, he says, is clearly a promising route for effective networking in Southland.

The various xDSL technologies already hold promise for urban areas, he adds.

London Consulting principal Wendy London, whose firm advises the Taranaki broadband effort, says its share will go to a strategic study of the need for communications facilties -- not to employ a facilitator. This more detailed study follows a "scoping study" done earlier this year, and will look at the question from an economic perspective.

Taranaki's grant will go to Venture Taranaki, the region's development agency, London says - again giving the impression decisions are further along than Anderton's office acknowledges.

"I understand we still have to present a study to government before we get the go-ahead," says Venture Taranaki spokesman Antony Stening.

The opportunity for Taranaki to expand its technology and knowledge industries rather than just being known for energy and dairying carries considerable promise, London says. "I'm a lawyer and my practice can work throughout the world, thanks to the internet."

The feasibility study "would have been done in some form" even without the government funding, she says; but the funds will obviously make it easier and perhaps more comprehensive.

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