Tasmanian Gov't denies schools locked out of NBN

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Tasmanian Gov't denies schools locked out of NBN

Tasmania's Department of Education has neutered criticism from the state's opposition over public school takeup of the NBN, revealing all schools in trial areas were serving out existing telecommunications contracts.

A department spokeman said public schools were obliged to acquire telecommunications service through a whole-of-government contract that had run since 2007.

Although initially set to expire last year, the Tasmanian Government had renewed the contract until 2013.

The extension effectively prevented public schools in the state from signing up for NBN access.

Instead, they were obliged to procure services from Telstra, Aurora Energy or BBW.

Shadow education minister Michael Ferguson slammed state Labor earlier this week after it was confirmed that no public schools in the current NBN serving areas of Smithton, Scottsdale or Midway Point had fibre access to all classrooms.

In written answers [pdf] provided to Ferguson and published on his site, education minister Nick McKim said that the only NBN access at public schools was an Internode-supplied trial classroom at Smithon High School.

"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," Ferguson said in a statement accompanying the answers.

Digital Tasmania spokesman Andrew O'Connor supported Ferguson's pressing of the issue.

Security needs

A Department of Premier and Cabinet spokesman told iTnews that there were also some technical considerations before public schools could join the NBN.

"Issues such as filtering of inappropriate content and viruses and access to the secure Government network are important pre-requisites which need to be covered before those schools can move to the NBN," he said in a statement.

But Digital Tasmania's O'Connor argued the state government had "two years to prepare for this but haven't gotten that far".

"Obviously security and access to those networks are paramount but certainly this could have all been arranged int he last year and you could go further to think that they knew the NBN was coming a year before that," he told iTnews.

"Essentially they've had two years to prepare for this but haven't gotten that far."

On-boarding with NBN Co

State education minister Nick McKim argued that more extensive fibre connections to public classrooms would not occur until "the State Government Wide Area Network communications providers became registered with NBN Co as retail service providers".

Telstra is both a state government contract partner and, since September last year, has trialled NBN services in the state.

A Telstra spokesman said the trial continued with a "small number of customers". 

He would not confirm whether Telstra would offer commercial services to premises in the state in the near future.

It is believed Aurora Energy, which also acts as agent for NBN Co's Tasmanian subsidiary, is in negotiations to become a retail service provider on the network but is yet to finalise negotiations to on-board with the government wholesaler as a provider.

The education department's deputy secretary of corporate services Andrew Finch said that Aurora Energy was "working closely with the Government" on the issue.

The telco had previously held discussions with the Federal Government to form a joint venture with NBN Co, but negotiations reportedly fell apart.

NBN-connected schools

Circular Head Christian School in Smithton has been highlighted as one of few schools having received the technology so far.

It was used as the site for the official launch of the NBN in Tasmania last year, and connected via the internet to students at the Presbyterian Ladies College in Armidale in May as an example of the types of applications that the broadband network could facilitate.

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