An Industry New Zealand-funded research project into broadband access in Otago and Southland suggests the education sector is leading the way in using technology, often wireless, to bring services to remote areas.
Project manager Steve Canny says the team of researchers contracted to the project looked at several areas, including education, health and tourism, finding that in education, several innovative projects in the region are providing yardsticks by which other areas could get in on the act.
“There are several interesting pilot projects being conducted, including the one at Waiau College, Tuatapere, in which Broadcast Communications [BCL] is providing wireless internet access to the school," says Canny. “That’s an example of how leading edge digital wireless technologies can make a difference in an isolated rural community.”
BCL is providing the college with up to 128Kbit/s of bandwidth via its network and a Vodafone tower to enable the college to take part in Cantatech, a South Island distance learning scheme.
Canny concedes such projects are not economically self-sustaining, with the Ministry of Education funding the Waiau College project. “However, we’re looking at the possibility of aggregation of services.”
With other sectors such as health also utilising such wireless services, there may be more chance of networks becoming commercially viable, Canny says. Health is one area which could really benefit, he says.
“We feel there’s quite a significant need in rural communities in the medical field – there are opportunities for remote diagnosis and monitoring of patients, for teleradiography and other services.”
The study is funded by Industry New Zealand but is being carried out by the Otago-Southland Broadband Communications Committee.
“The committee is supported by all the local authorities in the two regions and most of the tertiary education institutes,” says Canny.
The preliminary findings of the project were due to be presented on August 17.