Cost a Hurdle to Broadband Adoption by New Zealand Schools

The New Zealand government's plan to wire up schools to the nationwide fiber network is hitting a snag due to pricing, writes Kristy Johnston for New Zealand's Dominion Post. The implementation is now behind schedule, with only 8 schools taking advantage of the increased speed out of the 176 that have been wired.

In rural areas, the picture is even grimmer. Only 6 schools are actually using the broadband services even though nearly 500 have been hooked up to the fiber grid. Many blame the situation on the providers who set the prices on data too high for schools in poorer areas to afford.

There's additional concern with the trends in pricing in the future, since the collapse of Pacific Fibre Plan which, it was hoped, would have provided some needed competition in the broadband market. The proposal called for two new undersea broadband cables running from New Zealand to California and Australia, but the main backer Sam Morgan, founder of Trade Me, pulled out after no other investors stepped forward. This means that Southern Cross Cable remains the sole player in the international broadband since they retain ownership of the only broadband link out of the country.

Southern Cross Cable's monopoly means that schools in lower-income areas aren't likely to see relief from high prices any time soon. Marie Cameron, Bursar of Napier's decile 1 Henry Hill school said that currently the school is paying $45 AUD a month for broadband service, but can't take advantage of the fiber that has been laid to the school because it can't afford the higher fees. She lamented that the money spent to hook up schools to the broadband backbone might prove to be a waste if arrangements that would allow schools to afford to use it aren't put in place soon. Meanwhile, Henry Hill administrators are sitting back and hoping that the Government would arrange some kind of a group purchase plan to make the service more affordable.

Principal Gary Punler from Palmerston North's West End School also had the fibre, but was still to connect. He'd had an approach from one company, but was waiting to see if there were other competitive offers.

"I did see the announcement about Pacific Fibre and I did wonder what it was going to mean for us? " he said.

Manurewa MP Louisa Wall said she was more concerned that although broadband was considered an essential educational tool, schools in poor areas were passed over.

At the moment, about an equal number of richer and poorer schools are getting wired up, with 45 decile-1 schools already hooked up along with 58 decile-10 schools. Wall, however, thinks that it's decile 1-3 schools, the ones servicing students from the lowest-income families, that should be a priority when the rollout schedule is drafted.

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