WORK has started on a project that will narrow the digital divide between urban dwellers and the people of the East Coast.
An initiative to lay fibre optic cable around the East Cape will funnel high-speed internet to 16 rural schools and could be a telecommunications lifeline for people in Gisborne.
FX Networks and Chorus yesterday unveiled their $12.4 million joint project to build a 190-kilometre fibre network stretching north of Makorori.
Work has already started on part of the national rural broadband initiative (RBI), which both partners say is a major step towards securing Gisborne’s fibre future.
For schools and communities, access to high-speed internet will help meet the Government’s expectation that the “digital divide” between rural and urban areas be narrowed.
The tech-savvy are excited at the prospect of Gisborne finally getting critical network diversity.
“As it stands now, we have the old ‘line-of-sight’ microwave towers plus the fibre network south that connects us via Hawke’s Bay,” said web developer Russell Holland.
“That leaves us pretty vulnerable. If there was a serious event south of Gisborne, all of our communications could be knocked out — internet, cellphones, even eftpos. It would be catastrophic.
“The new fibre loop means we will also be connected to the north, which offers some protection to our communications.”
The new network would give the Gisborne region “triple redundancy” — with the fibre route south, the new cabling north and the microwave towers, Mr Holland said.
“Being able to have that connection north via Whakatane gives us a huge amount of flexibility and security. To put it in perspective, this news is as big as the Waioeka Gorge road getting tarsealed all those years ago.”
The joint project sees a faster-than- planned rollout on the East Cape, putting ultra-fast broadband in reach of schools 18 months ahead of schedule.
That was a great example of two network providers co-ordinating their work to deploy fibre faster to benefit the community, said Chorus general manager of network build Chris Dyhrberg.
“By working together, both Chorus and FX Networks avoid network duplication and can enhance the region’s fibre services far quicker than if we tried to on our own.
“We’ve seen first-hand the difference that fibre technology makes in the way students experience the internet. This joint project means we can put more than 1000 East Cape pupils in reach of ultra-fast broadband by July next year.”
Inter-city fibre construction was a strength FX had developed, with nearly 3000 kilometres built in the last eight years, said FX Networks chief executive David Heald.
“We’ve got 30 guys on the East Coast and for the next six months they are going to work as much as they can to get about one-and-a-half kilometres of fibre in the ground every day.”
FX had been charged with building a fibre network for New Zealand and Gisborne was a critical part of that loop, said Chorus head of industrial relations Craig Young.
In town for the launch, East Coast MP Anne Tolley said once the connection was made, having much faster broadband would revolutionise the way East Coast schools and companies went about their business.
“It will give students at our rural schools access to the best teachers and on-line resources from anywhere in the world, and that is going to help lift their achievement,” she said.
“The same goes for users like marae and rural businesses.
“I’ve been impressed by their stoicism to date as they’ve coped with dial-up, but soon they will be at the cutting edge, and able to take advantage of the economic benefits that go along with high-speed connections.”
• The schools scheduled to benefit from the new network are:
Te Kura Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa, TKKM o Kawakawa mai Tawhiti, Te Waha O Rerekohu Area School
TKKM o Taperenui a Whatonga, Tikitiki School, TKKM o Te Waiu o Ngati Porou, Ngata Memorial College
Hiruharama, Makarika, Te Puia Springs, TKKM o Nga Taonga Tuturu ki Tokomaru, Hatea-a-Rangi, TKKM o Mangatuna, Tolaga Bay Area School, Whangara, Potaka.