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High Speed Internet Rolls into more Regions

New Zealand wide coverage of high speed internet is almost complete with Project Probe moving into three more regions, Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton, Education Minister Trevor Mallard, and Information Technology Minister Paul Swain announced today.

Project PROBE (Provincial Broadband Extension) is a multi-million 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 the West Coast and Manawatu/Wanganui and lines company Counties Power as preferred supplier in Auckland. Preferred suppliers for the final Project PROBE region Otago and the satellite option, for very remote schools and communities, are expected before the end of the year.

"Today's announcement is a significant milestone towards our goal of taking high speed internet to every New Zealand region by the end of 2004," the ministers said.

“Our government sees Project PROBE as a critical infrastructure investment. It’s an important part of our strategy to grow a more innovative economy.

“We are committed to ensuring students and families, businesspeople and employees have the same opportunities in education and in economic development, regardless of where they live and work.”

Trevor Mallard announced the rollout to the three regions at an education forum in Palmerston North today.

He said information and communications technology (ICT) was an essential skill for students and critical for life in the 21st century skills.

"Through Project PROBE, students in remote rural communities will have the same access to information as students in major urban areas. They will have the same opportunity to become online learners, through audio and video conferencing, digital resources, discussion forums and online classrooms that can link teachers and students across the country.

"This rollout of broadband to the Manawatu/Wanganui, West Coast and regional Auckland will benefit a further 184 schools with nearly 24,000 students between them.

"The government is also keen to see broadband extended as far beyond schools as possible and funding assistance from businesses, regions, community trusts and local government is helping this process. Close liaison with regional groups is an important part of PROBE."

Jim Anderton said the provision of affordable and reliable broadband services was opening up exciting business opportunities in rural communities.

“I am particularly pleased to see Counties Power's selection in Auckland as this is a first rate example of our commitment to supporting local businesses to grow and develop in their own communities.

"The government is keen to break down the digital divide between metropolitan and rural communities as this is an important part of our strategy to produce a more innovative and successful economy where all communities have the opportunity to play their part," Jim Anderton said.

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 through improved broadband access and technology.

"ICT, coupled with biotechnology and creative industries, is vital to an economically successful New Zealand and central to our government's Growth and Innovation Framework."

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

Today's announcement follows on from the first announcement in July this year of the broadband rollout to the Waikato, Wellington and Taranaki regions, the October announcements of broadband to Nelson/Marlborough, Canterbury, Bay of Plenty and Gisborne/Hawkes Bay regions and the launch by Prime Minister Helen Clark on 10 October of the Southland Project PROBE rollout.

Questions and Answers

What is Project PROBE?

Project PROBE is a major government initiative. It 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.

Will Counties Power be providing broadband across the entire Auckland Region?

Counties Power will be focussed on the rural areas of the Auckland region to extend broadband coverage to the rural schools and communities that are the focus of Project PROBE. They are further committed to provide the service across the Auckland region wherever there is viable demand.

When will the announcement for Otago and the satellite region 15 be made?

Project PROBE and Otago are working closely to



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