Broadband coming to heartland
pioneering forefathers had waited to prove a business case before
building the national road and rail infrastructure New Zealand would be
a remote third world backwater today.
Until recently it was left entirely to ‘market forces’ to sort out how new generation internet and high speed data services would be supplied to the nation. While carriers scrapped among themselves over interconnection rights and wholesale pricing, outlying areas were virtually overlooked.
After a decade of hands off policies it has taken innovation by power companies and independent carriers, organised efforts by communities and a visionary effort by communications minister Paul Swain to even get close to delivering high-speed communications to rural and regional New Zealand.
Early in his reign Mr Swain emphasised the importance of broadband
access for all New Zealanders including ‘farmers down lonely roads’
by the unlikely deadline of the end of 2003. He wants to see government
departments in small towns and rural areas pool their bandwidth
requirements to attract the best deal for everyone.
Telecom says it’ll only extend its high-speed copper-based Jetstream digital subscriber line (DSL) service ‘where it is commercially viable’ to upgrade an exchange. Jetstream currently covers about 83 per cent of the country.
BCL, which provides transmission capabilities for every major radio and TV channel into New Zealand homes, is now partnering with Telecom and other carriers to provide voice and data services to 14 outlying regions as part of the government’s $20 million Project Probe. Customers could create wireless wide area networks within school, a farm, home or business from a single connection.
Project Probe, designed to bring broadband to the provinces, initially focuses on 2700 schools and while BCL is confident it has the technology and the expertise to meet those requirements it has its eye on the bigger picture.
It wants to provide voice and data to 200,000 customers in rural New Zealand who are presently struggling with sub-standard communications capabilities. That is also the governments underlying objective.
Walker Wireless is also keen to get a slice of this business. In conjunction with Vodafone it has been testing technology to provide speeds up to 3Mbit/sec over a range of 30km from base stations. They’ve already won the first contract to supply rural schools in Southland. Walker Wireless believes it could cover the country for an investment of about $80 million.
Meanwhile the entrepreneurial spirit remains alive in many remote
parts of the country where regional councils and community trusts have
gained support to attract broadband suppliers. For example high-speed
access is now available in 13 Otago towns – including every secondary
school. Northland and Wairarapa have also established their own
broadband initiatives and electricity suppliers such as Counties power
are promising 25,000 residents and businesses on the outskirts of
Auckland will soon have independent broadband access.
Building today is the only way to ensure everyone gets access to new and evolving services, which will continue to reshape e-commerce, education, tourism, farming, horticulture, health, news, information, entertainment and central and local government.
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