Almost a year after the National Broadband Network (NBN) was officially switched on in Tasmania, the State Government has been forced to concede that no public school in the early stage release towns of Scottsdale, Midway Point and Smithton have been connected to the high-speed fibre internet service that the project offers.
In Tasmanian state parliament this week, Opposition education spokesperson Michael Ferguson asked Education Minister Nick McKim whether any school in any of the three towns had been connected to the NBN. "No school in any of the three stage one towns are using a production NBN service," McKim replied (PDF), as reported by The Examiner.
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.
The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has been invited to comment on the situation, which appears to have seen NBN fibre rolled out to the schools' premises, but with the schools' infrastructure not actually being connected to a live service provider. All three towns appear to have schools located in their surrounds.
In Tasmania, the delay appears to be due to the fact that internet service to schools is provided through the Networking Tasmania contract, which is held by Telstra and is currently being tested in the market. Like other providers, Telstra is currently trialling NBN services in Tasmania.
"In early December 2010, the department reached agreement with NBN Co to trial an NBN service at Smithton High School until the State Government wide area network communications providers became registered with NBN as retail service providers," said McKim. "The department connected this trial NBN service into one computer lab. The majority of Smithton High School still use the government wide area network."
Smithton High School's trial NBN service, to one classroom, is provided by Internode, and does not reach the full NBN speeds. It features 25 Mbps downlink speeds and 2 Mbps uplink.
In a statement, Ferguson pilloried the State Government over the situation. "Following questions from the Liberals, Education Minister Nick McKim has been forced to admit that there isn't a single school in Tasmania connected to the NBN," he said. "In fact, the closest many students come to the NBN is a single lonely computer lab in Smithton connected to the NBN in December 2010 as a trial."
"The NBN is a tremendous opportunity for our communities and our schools, but the Green-Labor Government has completely dropped the ball. 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 benefiting from the NBN."