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Government Brokers Broadband Bridge

'You can't have e-commerce without broadband access'

By Keith Newman (for iStart.co.nz )

The government is taking a hands-on approach to ensure all outlying and rural communities have the same access to high-speed internet as their city cousins by the end of 2003.

Long awaited measures to ramp up regions for the inevitability of e-commerce as the major economic driver of the future were revealed in an exclusive iStart interview with commerce and communications minister Paul Swain this week.

He says within two years regional development must include bundling of local communications needs to make it more attractive for carriers to deliver affordable broadband speeds, even to 'farmers down lonely roads'.

"You can't be in e-commerce unless you can move data at a reasonable speed and cost," says Mr Swain.

To start the ball rolling the Government is to invest $300,000 so six outlying communities can assess and bundle their communications needs to attract better deals from carriers. Details of how this is achieved will be made public to inspire similar initiatives. Further investment is planned including building communications towers to ensure another five regions get a kick-start.

Schools, local authorities and government departments will be required to get behind the initiative although it's yet to be determined what communications contracts are already in place. "We're is trying to focus minds on the fact that in each locality there's a critical mass of government agencies," says Mr Swain.

Pilots will be run in Northland, Southland, Taranaki, Wairarapa, South Waikato and East Cape. "I can't find this model anywhere in the world. We believe the drive will come from demand rather than being government-imposed. It'll show commercial viability, identify the gaps, what's required and who pays. There will be an element of user pays"

Mr Swain is mandating that TVNZ-owned Broadcast Communications (BCL) provide access to its nationwide wireless internet capabilities to any carrier seeking interconnection. There's a suggestion that carriers and communities providing better coverage than currently available through Telecom may be eligible for a portion of the Kiwi Share. New spectrum is also to be made available - possibly up to 20 per cent being designated for needy areas.

"Our objective is by end of 2003 New Zealand communities will have access to the same kind of two way high speed internet available to those in major cities. We think our pilots will start the roll out," Mr Swain told iStart.

Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton are excluded from the move to bridge the digital divide between city and country as its believed they're adequately served already.

(full story: iStart.co.nz web)

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