Gov't shows broadband hand at last

Government's initial contribution to the provision of rural broadband communications has at last been revealed. It will amount to $300,000, from the Ministry of Economic Development's budget to facilitate up to six pilot schemes.

Government’s initial contribution to the provision of rural broadband communications has at last been revealed. It will amount to $300,000, from the Ministry of Economic Development’s budget to facilitate up to six pilot schemes.

Regions offered the option of a pilot are Northland, Southland, Taranaki, Wairarapa, South Waikato and East Cape.

IT minister Paul Swain and Minister of Economic Development Jim Anderton jointly announced the plan today.

The funds will go to pay the salary of a facilitator appointed in each area and to meet incidental expenses, says a spokesman for Anderton. The MED will not, at this stage, subsidise the pilot projects directly; that is seen as the role of local businesses and local authorities, possibly in co-operation with telecommunications suppliers, on the model of the collaborative exercise now under way between Telecom and the Otago Community Trust (see Taylormade backs broadband).

Government does not rule out more direct funding further down the line, if a costed plan cannot be financed fully by local interests, says Anderton’s spokesman.

“The pilots will test the potential for bringing together demand for broadband services in a particular region in a way that is commercially attractive for suppliers” says Swain.

“For example, it may not be commercially viable for a telecommunications company to provide a broadband link to one or two businesses in a remote community. But if a number of businesses and consumers in a community pool their demand, that could be the difference between the service going ahead or not.”

This idea of “demand aggregation” has been a mainspring of the push for rural broadband services for several months (see Bandwidth call falls on deaf ears).

“The pilots will support initiatives driven by the communities themselves and by the suppliers. They are not driven top-down from the Government,” Swain says.

The Government wants to ensure all New Zealand communities can access two-way high-speed Internet services by the end of 2003, says the joint announcement. “High-speed” in this context means a minimum of 128 Kbit/sec.

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