About 3000 schools could benefit from the government’s rural broadband initiative within the next six years, Technology Minister Steven Joyce says.
Mr Joyce told NBR yesterday the rollout of ultra-fast broadband was more important than connecting urban areas with fibre, and it was essential for schools to have access to the internet.
“We can’t afford to have a divide between urban and rural education. We need to provide access for future education, arguably some would say now, to get bandwidth to rural schools,” Mr Joyce said.
Fibre the priority
He said satellite would be an option for very remote areas but that the government’s aim for rural communities is to lay down fibre. Some schools in rural areas are currently receiving broadband through satellite while they wait for fibre connections.
“There is more of an urgency over the rural (initiative). The full fibre rollout will take 10 years. There is more of a demand for rural communities, as half are still on dial up.”
Satellite provider: could cover 40,000 within a year
Rural New Zealand could be connected to broadband within a year if Farmside, a satellite service provider that recently partnered with Vodafone, gets its way with a government tender. The government announced funding plans for rural telecommunications yesterday, saying it was a priority.
Farmside currently has 10,000 rural customers receiving broadband through satellite connections. Farmside CEO Tony Baird said this could be increased by 40,000 within a year if the company received funding from the government. He said rural schools could be connected tomorrow if there was money available for the satellite dishes and installation.
Mr Baird said satellites were key to rural broadband problems, as many remote areas would not have access to fibre when the government starts laying down cabling for super-fast broadband.
He said many people were desisting from investing in satellite due to cost and the promise of fibre. But fibre to the home could be years ago for New Zealanders and even longer for rural New Zealand and some rural parts of the country will never not have fibre to the home.
“Rural New Zealand needs high speed broadband immediately (more so than the rest of the country), it is essential for social benefits as rural people don’t have access to museums or galleries as people do in the cities. Schools especially need access to the internet for projects and further education.”
Mr Baird said satellites were initial expensive to buy and install but running it was cost effective. “It’s much like Telecom’s copper investment [VDSL2 super-fast broadband rollout] there is a initial capital cost. There needs to be more awareness about the benefits of satellite.”
Mr Baird said satellite customers could invest in additional hardware from the company’s gateway in Auckland and receive broadband television content as well as internet content. This would also facilitate a TiVo or MySpace media device.
Farmside will lodge a submission with the government to receive funding for the rural broadband initiative. The government has released two proposals for public comment, the rural fast broadband initiative and reforming the Telecommunications Service Obligation (TSO) levy.
Yesterday, the government announced it plans to fund the $300 million rural initiative through a combination of direct government funding and revenue from a radically revamped TSO levy. Telecom announced yesterday it would participate in the broadband consultations.
Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds said the company continues to invest “heavily” in New Zealand’s rural sector with more than $150 million spent on fixed line and mobile services during the last financial year.