Anderton launches broadband for Marlborough schools

  • Jim Anderton
Economic Development

Marlborough PROBE launch

10.30 Friday, 15 April 2005.
Fairhall / Omaka Community Hall, Marlborough


The launch is the Marlborough component of the Nelson-Marlborough-Tasman Project PROBE region and completes the project. The Minister and the Marlborough Mayor are "switching on" the first Marlborough schools.


Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman and councillors
Fairhall School principal Simon Heath

It was that great television personality Homer Simpson who once said, ‘Ooo, they have Internet on computers now.’

Of course, we can take the Internet for granted now.

Project Probe was first developed because the government believed we might not be able to ensure high-speed Internet access would be available in every community of New Zealand.

So it’s worth reflecting on why it’s important to us to make sure every New Zealander has access to high-speed Internet.

A century ago the developed world was opened up by great transport routes.

Whether it was long train tracks moving coal from mines to pits and logs to ports, or huge refridgerated ships carrying our meat and dairy exports to the other side of the world.

The ability to move these products secured our prosperity for generations.

There will always be a need to transport physical products.

But if we want to be sure of producing high-value incomes for the future we need to be able to shift something more: Ideas. Valuable, weightless information.

The United States exported in the year 2000 the same weight of goods it exported a hundred years before.

But the value of those exports increased hundreds of times.

The difference was that ideas and creativity were added to raw materials.

The ability to share information with anyone in the world has made it even easier to add ideas and creativity to products.

There is an economist, called Metcalfe, who worked out that the value of a network increases by the square of the number of users.

In other words, the more people you can put in contact with other, the more the overall contact grows in value - not just in proportion to the growth in numbers, but much, much faster.

The other side of that coin is that those who are not connected risk being left behind much further and much faster.

As Minister for Regional Development, it’s my job to find ways to ensure we don’t leave whole communities behind anymore.

We used to do that, in the eighties and nineties.

We told people to close down and move away.

But if we can overcome the problems of isolation, then the lifestyle advantages of our regions can provide a vibrant lifestyle and a promising future.

In the 21st Century, affordable access to high-speed broadband communications is as necessary as access to any other infrastructure.

So the labour-Progressive coalition government developed Project PROBE.

It aims to ensure at least 95 per cent of each region is to access broadband by the end of this year.

It aims for satellite coverage close to 100 per cent.

A total of $48 million is being spent on Project PROBE delivering broadband to schools to extend the learning opportunities available to our children.

In practice, Project PROBE will mean even the most outlying schools will have live interactive links between each other and the world.

At the moment, only some schools in Blenheim township have broadband connection through existing services.

In future, kids from Seddon or Ward to Wairau Valley and Waitaria Bay in the Sounds, will be able to share information and ideas directly.

They’ll be able to ask questions, take part in lessons in other schools, and connect live into schools throughout the country using videoconferencing technology.

It’s easy to see how the value of the network can deliver exponential gains.

There are positive spin-offs for Marlborough businesses, too.

The PROBE contract for Marlborough went to a regional supplier, The Pacific.Net.

The introduction of the technology to the region will help businesses to connect with wider markets more easily.

The technology is wireless and is therefore bringing broadband to the whole region.

The technology will reach deep into Marlborough’s difficult-to-access valleys.

I want to pay tribute to the Marlborough Regional Development Trust, who have had excellent support from the Marlborough District Council in developing the project.

They have seen the potential for this technology.

It offers huge benefits to businesses, producers and community groups operating in distant parts of Marlborough.

For example, the mussel industry can send sampling back for immediate analysis.

Winemakers can visually check the state of their distant vines wherever they are, whether in the lab, at a conference or overseas.

It might even help the resource management process, sub-committees could ‘visit’ controversial sites by video-link and ask questions of the person on-site.

Project PROBE has already had significant economic spin-offs in the region.

Businesses have taken advantage of global communications to attract and retain expertise, keep down costs and work with partners all over the globe.

ICT is integral to a modern, innovative and globally competitive economy.

This coalition government is working hard to ensure we maximise the benefits Information and Communications Technologies can bring.

The government’s blueprint for action, the Digital Strategy, will be launched next month, (in May).

It will set out what the government intends doing to create a digital future for all New Zealanders.

New funding to deliver the strategy will be included in next month’s Budget.

The strategy is not just about technology.

It’s about people and their ability to connect with one another.

It’s a plan to build New Zealanders’ sense of belonging and help individuals and communities become more productive.

It will encourage innovation within communities and take existing services to previously remote areas.

Partnership and collaboration lie at the heart of the Digital Strategy.

The sort of partnership shown here today between central and local government, business and the local community is an example.

The challenge for Marlborough is to ensure people throughout the region make the most of the high-speed connection now available to them.

Schools, businesses, people at home and community groups need to build on this asset.

This is not just about our children and our schools, although that is crucially important too.

It is an opportunity to build a digital community in Marlborough and throughout New Zealand.

This can be a community where every person has the chance to enrich their lives through technology.

I welcome the exciting future this technology is bringing, and congratulate this community on the partnerships that have brought to a state of readiness.

I wish you well with the success of this project.

How important is it that we offer all our young people the opportunities to accomplish everything they’re capable of?

Who is going to say a young New Zealand in the regions of New Zealand should not have the same opportunities as the most privileged, or those who live in large metropolitan areas?

This project is about realising a future for them.

So it’s fitting that we are at school, where the young New Zealanders embody a future of easily shared knowledge and opportunities.

In fact I’m reminded of the story of a teacher who advised her students to check the Internet if they had trouble with their homework questions.

One of the students put his had up and said, ‘miss it’s not the questions I have trouble with. It’s the answers!’