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Thursday, 10 September 2009 08:09

NZ Gov't promises 100Mbps FTTP to 93 percent of rural schools

New Zealand's communications and IT minister, Steven Joyce, has spelt out the government's rural broadband targets, promising that an estimated $NZ300m will be spent over six years to give 93 percent of rural schools fibre delivering at least 100Mbps and the remaining seven percent getting at least 10Mbps. More than 80 percent of rural households will get at least 5Mbps and the remainder at least 1Mbps.

Joyce said: "Providing fibre to the vast majority of rural schools will effectively deliver the capacity to provide faster broadband to the communities they serve. Fibre backhaul is currently the primary limiting factor in the delivery of rural broadband and getting fibre to schools will address that."

He added that getting fibre backhaul into rural communities would also allow other technologies such as wireless and cellular to play a larger role in rural New Zealand and would enable rural cellphone towers to be connected to fibre improving mobile phone services in rural areas.

Combined with the government's $NZ1.5 billion urban broadband investment initiative, achievement of the rural targets - with funding to be sourced from a mix of private and public funding - would mean that 97 percent of New Zealand schools and 99.7 percent of New Zealand students would have access to broadband at 100Mbps or greater, Joyce claimed. "Similarly, 97 percent of New Zealanders will be able to achieve broadband speeds from their homes and businesses of at least 5Mbps, with 91 percent having speeds greater than 10Mbps."

The announcement was foreshadowed last month when prime minister, John Key, dismissed the $NZ48m allocated in the May 2009 budget to rural broadband as "Paltry".

Joyce said that the initial focus would be on areas that will not benefit from Telecom NZ's fibre-to-the-node upgrade programme. "Telecom's current programme will get us from 75 percent to 84 percent. The new challenge will be delivering fast broadband beyond the 84 percent and delivering fibre to the majority of rural schools."

Telecom NZ has welcomed the announcement with CEO Paul Reynolds describing it as "a great sign of progress and commitment to a future of ubiquitous fast broadband for all New Zealanders who need it."

The announcement also received qualified support from InternetNZ. Spokesperson, Jordan Carter, said: "This announcement fills a worrying gap in government policies that would have seen the emergence of an even wider digital divide between urban and rural New Zealand. It is very welcome...The extension of fibre backhaul in rural areas will be a significant benefit to the communities served. New Zealander's heavy reliance on dial-up has been an embarrassing component in international comparisons of Internet access, and has limited the economic and social development options available to Kiwis outside urban areas."

He called for the Government to flesh out its announcement with more details. "For example, the balance of public and private funding for the estimated $NZ300m cost, which we understand is in addition to the existing $1.5bn commitment to fast broadband.

"InternetNZ would also like to see more thought go into how to get the ultra-fast broadband to other rural facilities, businesses, farms and rural dwellers, rather than be limited to speeds of 5Mbps or 1Mpbs, which would appear to be some sort of copper-based solution."

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