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High speed internet to roll out in Otago

17 December 2003 Media Statement

High speed internet to roll out in Otago

New Zealand-wide coverage of high speed internet moves a step further today with the selection of a preferred supplier for Otago, Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton, Education Minister Trevor Mallard and Information Technology Minister Paul Swain announced today.

The high speed internet access is being delivered through Project PROBE, a multimillion-dollar government investment to boost education and economic development through the delivery of broadband technology to regional New Zealand.

The ministers today named Telecom as the preferred supplier for Otago, confirming the company as preferred supplier in eight of the fourteen Project PROBE regions, Woosh Wireless in four, and ThePacific.net and Counties Power in one each.

"This investment also represents a unique partnership between central government, local government and regional groups, and the private sector," the ministers said.

"A number of regional groups are contributing resources or additional funding to ensure regional priorities are met through Project PROBE," they said.

The ministers expect to make the announcement for a preferred supplier for the satellite region, which will ensure broadband coverage to very remote parts of the country in the new year.

Trevor Mallard said the extension of Project PROBE into Otago is expected to make broadband available to around 55 rural schools with over 3000 students - bringing the total nationwide to 2700 schools and some 750,000 students. The satellite option will cover an additional 60 to 70 schools.

"These students will now have the same opportunity to become online learners as students in the city where broadband is readily available. They too will be able to access audio and video conferencing, digital resources and participate in discussion forums and online classrooms. Otago students will be able to be taught by specialists teachers from the other end of New Zealand if necessary through this project," Trevor Mallard said.

Jim Anderton said the provision of affordable and reliable broadband services was opening up exciting business opportunities in rural communities and was already having a significant impact on economic development in rural New Zealand.

"Extending broadband services throughout New Zealand is a key ingredient in getting the right infrastructure to lift our performance as a knowledge economy," Jim Anderton said.

"We are committed to ensuring rural communities can take advantage of just as many opportunities in education and in economic development as metropolitan areas and having high speed internet access is a core part of this."

Paul Swain said Project PROBE is a prime example of government working in partnership with local communities to support the growth of technical and business skills and build stronger industry networks.

"The health and social welfare sectors in rural communities will also benefit from this investment in broadband technology."

The ministers said they are keen to see broadband extended as far beyond schools as possible and funding assistance from business, regions, community trusts and local government is helping this process.

"Close liaison with regional groups is an important part of Project PROBE and today's announcement is a culmination of the hard work and commitment all those involved at regional and national level have made," the ministers said.

Earlier Project PROBE announcements:
- Waikato, Wellington and Taranaki regions - 23 July;
- Nelson/Marlborough, Canterbury, Bay of Plenty and Gisborne/Hawkes Bay regions - 13 October;
- the launch by Prime Minister Helen Clark of the Southland Project PROBE rollout - 10 October; and
- West Coast, Manawatu/Wanganui and Auckland - 14 November.

Questions and Answers

What is Project PROBE?
Project PROBE is a major government initiative. Project PROBE stands for Provincial Broadband Extension and has been developed jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economic Development.

What are the benefits of having high speed internet access?
Rural businesses will be able to tap into the same internet capability as businesses in the cities. Broadband is a major tool for businesses in terms of accessing information, opening up new markets, enabling access to world markets, and driving increased efficiency through e-commerce.

Broadband internet opens up huge opportunities for students and schools in remote and isolated country regions – opportunities that students in urban areas already have. Through broadband students in Wairoa will have access to the same information as students in Wellington or New York. Broadband-enabled two-way video conferencing can allow school subjects like advanced sciences and mathematics and te Reo to be taught to learners in very remote schools.

The extension of broadband coverage will also bring enhanced benefits to rural communities in the form of improved access to health and social services and to a range of other public services and information already on the internet.

How much is Project PROBE costing?
The tender process remains commercially sensitive and while it is still in progress no figures for the overall cost of the project will be released.

How does Project PROBE work?
Fourteen geographical regions have been established throughout New Zealand, with a 15th region to provide national satellite coverage for those schools where a terrestrial solution would be impractical.

The 14 regions are: Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Hawkes Bay/Gisborne, Taranaki, Manawatu/Wanganui, Wairarapa, Wellington/Kapiti/Horowhenua, Nelson/Tasman/Marlborough, West Coast, Canterbury (including Chatham Islands), Otago, and Southland.

Three of the regions – Southland, Wairarapa and Northland, elected to proceed with independent tendering processes with the understanding that, provided government objectives for Project PROBE were met, funding from the PROBE project would be available to meet at least some of their costs. These three regions are working with Woosh Wireless, formerly WalkerWireless.

See www.PROBE.govt.nz for more information.

Regional information follows:

Telecom in conjunction with BCL

The selection of Telecom for the Otago region now makes them the preferred supplier for eight of the PROBE regions. Their proposal includes a joint partnering programme with the regions.

Telecom’s combination of cabinet mounted mini-DSLAMs and the BCL Extend wireless service provides an effective solution offering a high level of school and community coverage.

For further information contact: Kerry Lamont, Telecom Government and Community Relations Adviser, 04 498 9366.

Comment from the Otago Project PROBE regional liaison group:

Otago Forward, the regional economic development agency for Otago, sees Project PROBE as a platform for regional economic development.

“Broadband infrastructure is a priority in our regional strategy," said Don Harvey, Chairman of the Otago Forward board.

“Broadband is an essential agent for economic change, providing whole of region broadband solutions to Otago businesses and communities.

"Project PROBE’s provision of broadband to all schools is another step forward in meeting those objectives. This follows on from earlier investigations into regional broadband needs by the Otago Southland Broadband Communications Committee, led by Professor George Benwell, University of Otago, and the underwriting of broadband services to secondary schools by the Otago Community Trust.

"With today's announcement of a preferred supplier for Otago, we will be exploring every opportunity to advance a broadband network across the region."

Ainslee Hooper, Otago Project PROBE regional coordinator and Otago Forward’s Executive Officer said broadband infrastructure is a critical economic capability issue for Otago as outlined in the mandate document - the regional economic development strategy.

“We already have a clear understanding of regional business and community needs and with the initial push, via PROBE, Otago is committed to rolling out broadband to the whole of our region.

"This commitment will be the essence of an Otago Forward broadband development project, undertaken in parallel with Project PROBE, next year.”

ENDS

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