The Office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has reaffirmed the government's commitment to bringing the National Broadband Network (NBN) to Tasmanian schools, following news that schools in the early stage roll-out zones in Tasmania do not have their NBN fibre switched on a year after it was connected.
In parliament this week, Tasmanian Opposition Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson asked Education Minister Nick McKim whether any school in any of the three towns of Scottsdale, Midway Point or Smithton had been connected to the NBN. "No school in any of the three Stage 1 towns are using a production NBN service," McKim replied. The cause appears to be that the state's education department has an overarching contract for telecommunications services that predates the NBN.
The Federal Government and the Tasmanian State Government have previously touted the ability to bring high-speed broadband to schools as a benefit of the NBN, holding demonstrations of the fibre optic technology within schools in Tasmania and other early stage release sites such as Armidale over the past year.
For example, in mid-May, groups of school children in Armidale and Tasmania were filmed in a joint rendition of "Waltzing Matilda" sung over a videoconference link over what appeared to be an NBN link between the two states. School students using next-generation broadband services have also been regularly featured in NBN Co advertisements highlighting the benefits of the NBN to the national education system.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said that the government stands by "its stated commitment that all schools will have access to services delivered over the NBN". "The Gillard Government's National Broadband Network will give Australian schools access to world-class high-speed broadband infrastructure," the statement said.
Conroy's office also highlighted the Networking Tasmania contract, which governs how State Government departments and agencies access telecommunications services. "Tasmanian state schools are predominantly provided with broadband services via a centralised state government purchasing arrangement outside of the NBN," it said.
In addition, Conroy's office pointed to a Tasmanian Department of Education media release issued in late May, which noted that the state government expected that, as the roll-out continued, all of the telcos currently supplying services to the government would offer NBN services to meet the needs of schools and other government locations.
"In particular, Aurora Energy is working closely with the government on this matter," the department's statement said.
Tasmania's Ferguson has issued a statement slamming the state government over its perceived inaction on the matter.
"The NBN is a tremendous opportunity for our communities and our schools, but the Green-Labor government has completely dropped the ball," he wrote. "The benefits of being the first part of the country with the NBN are slipping away as the mainland roll-out commences, yet the Green-Labor government has done nothing.
"After all the hype and hyperbole, not even our kids are benefitting from the NBN."