01 Feb 2010
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Chief Executive Farmside

A computer and internet connection are now considered essential classroom tools. But for teachers in some of this country’s rural schools, the idea of setting work based on access to the internet is little more than a dream.

The government has acknowledged the huge need for high-speed broadband in the rural sector with its plans to improve internet connection speeds through the significant rollout of fibre infrastructure. For many rural schools the crucial question is, how quickly can broadband be in place?

The Communications and IT Minister, Steven Joyce, in announcing the rollout, said that within six years he expects 93% of rural schools will receive fibre, enabling speeds of at least 100 Mbps. The remaining seven percent will achieve speeds of at least 10mbps.

But satellite technology could bring high-speed internet connections within months. So it’s incomprehensible why we would ask schools to wait years when a reliable, affordable solution is available today.

Fibre will bring a huge improvement to how rural schools function, but up to six years is just too long to wait. For a small number of schools, their remoteness or geographical position mean that fibre will never reach them. Children only spend six or eight years at primary school and for every year their school is unable to make high-speed internet connections, that child’s learning is affected. While fibre will be a huge asset to rural communities when it arrives, the use of satellites would provide a bridging technology that would give schools 10mbp connections before the new school year starts in 2010.

In remote areas, schools will have to look to satellite rather than fibre, as they will not be included in the rollout..

The idea of investing in a satellite when fibre will arrive might be seen a duplication by some, but in fact as a bridging option the costs are relatively low to get high-speed broadband in straight away. All the set-up infrastructure for fibre or satellite broadband is the same up until the point of plugging in. The extra cost to get the service as soon as possible is just the dish on the roof – that in most cases is $1300 ($1000 for the hardware and around $350 dollars to install depending on the complexity of the job). In addition there is a monthly operations fee.

Satellite is a technology which is available right away for today’s very real need. Fibre will be a valid option for a number of rural schools in the future, but teachers and students have another whole academic year ahead of them. Satellite could provide a cost-effective solution now and give rural schools a high-speed broadband connection before the new school year starts. The result would be a whole world of learning possibilities for rural schools for the start of 2010.

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