Schools will be allowed to compete with mainstream telecommunications companies by sharing their fibre-optic broadband connections with their local communities.
Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye said the policy would mainly benefit rural and poor communities. "This provision of fibre connections for ultrafast broadband offers an opportunity for some schools to act as digital hubs in their communities," she said.
An industry source feared the move could reduce demand for fully fledged residential ultrafast broadband (UFB) connections, especially if a large number of urban schools took up the opportunity to resell their connections.
However, Kaye thought it was unlikely a large number would sell broadband simply to make money.
Several schools have already jumped the gun by teaming up with internet providers to offer wireless broadband to nearby residents, using their government-funded fibre connections as "backhaul". The source questioned the legality of those arrangements.
Kaye said the Education Ministry would draft clear guidelines and provide information to school boards formalising the new policy. All new arrangements would need to be sanctioned by the Education Ministry and schools would not be able to enter into agreements that compromised the delivery of educational services, she said.
A spokesman said the guidelines should be drafted before the start of the 2014 school year.
InternetNZ policy adviser Reg Hammond said school-provided broadband could compete with wireless broadband being offered by Vodafone under the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI). Telecom might also see it as competition, he said.
But he said the policy made sense. Ninety-eight per cent of schools are due to be connected with fibre by 2016 under the UFB and RBI schemes but homes in rural areas could be stuck on "dial-up" speeds even though fibre-optic cables ran right past their door, he said.
The stumbling blocks that had stopped more schools from using their fibre connections to offer residential broadband were generally practical ones, Hammond said. Schools could potentially be deemed liable for mitigating piracy by their customers and another complication was the risk of customers accessing illegal content.
N4L KICKS OFF
Massey Primary School in Auckland will today become the first to connect to the Government's $211 million Network for Learning.
Crown-owned company N4L negotiated a nationwide deal in August, under which Telecom will offer "uncapped" ultrafast broadband to all the country's 2500 schools.
Internet content will be filtered by Telecom and all broadband costs will be met directly by the Education Ministry, rather than from schools' operational grants. Twenty-one schools are due to move to the service this year.
Connection speeds are 100 megabits-per-second, but next year large schools will get speeds of a gigabit-a-second.
From February, N4L will also provide an online portal which schools will be able to use to find, share and rate online learning materials.
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