Cost bar keeps fibre dream out of classrooms
Schools in underprivileged areas are struggling to benefit from the Government's ultra-fast broadband scheme, with high prices and unfair distribution creating a rich and poor “digital divide”, Labour says.
Figures show the scheme remains behind schedule, with 176 schools connected to the fibre but only eight actually using the high-speed internet.
There were 485 schools connected to rural broadband, with six using the service.
Some schools spoken to by the Sunday Star-Times say while they have been physically connected they are yet to use the service because it's too expensive to buy data from providers.
Their concerns about the cost of ultra-fast connectivity come after last week's collapse of the Pacific Fibre plan. The proposed undersea fibre-optic cable to Australia and California - backed by Trade Me founder Sam Morgan - was expected to provide much-needed broadband market competition but failed to get off the ground because of a lack of investors.
Its failure leaves the Southern Cross Cable as the only international link for New Zealand.
Labour communications spokeswoman Clare Curran said that meant the country was in the hands of a monopoly, creating an unaffordable service.
Curran said lack of thought behind the infrastructure delivery meant schools with less money would be left behind.
Bursar Marie Cameron, from Napier's decile 1 Henry Hill school, said the school had the fibre available but was waiting to see if the ministry was going to strike a group deal to make it more affordable.
“Currently we're paying about $45 per month and it's going to be a lot more than that,” she said. “The sad part of it is that there's been a lot of money put into this but for what reason if we can't hook up?”
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.
Figures show there was a relatively even split between schools in rich and poor areas getting high-speed internet access. For example, there were about 45 decile one schools in the rollout so far, and 58 decile 10 schools.
Wall said decile 1-3 schools should have been a priority. “Strategically, they are depriving children who live in communities like mine. The parents of my kids are more worried about putting bread and butter on the table than having internet.”
Communications and IT Minister Amy Adams said it was “misleading” to say high-decile schools were being favoured.
She said in a statement, the 661 schools deployed in year one were selected according to a number of criteria, including roll size, the status of internal network upgrades, proximity to existing fibre networks and ease of deployment.
“This has resulted in an even spread in terms of school deciles across the country.”
Adams said a scheme called The Network for Learning would offer affordable, safe, reliable and ultra-fast internet access, as well as a range of education content and services from next year. It would also simplify and substantially reduce costs for schools accessing ICT content and services, including the cost of internet connections.
THE DECILE DIVIDE
Which schools are getting ultra-fast broadband first?
Decile 1: 45
Decile 2: 67
Decile 3: 56
Decile 4: 67
Decile 5: 83
Decile 6: 60
Decile 7: 70
Decile 8: 82
Decile 9: 70
Decile 10: 58
Deciles 1-5 = 48 per cent
Deciles 6-10 = 52 per cent
Decile 1 is low socio-economic, Decile 10 is high socio-economic
Source: Minister for Communications and IT.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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