Qld Ed's $60m Net hits hurdles

Technology conflicts in Queensland's Connect.Ed network have left some regional communities out in the cold and drawn flack from ISPs.

The $60 million Internet initiative has put 500,000 students and 40,000 teachers online. It has linked 1300 schools in the state in a wide area network.

Its traffic volumes have zoomed more than 1000 per cent in the past year, successfully ramping up to more than 300Gbytes a month without hitting any serious bottlenecks.

But plans calling for Connect.Ed to help the wider regional community gain local call access to the Internet appear to have flopped dismally, as some areas are unable to access the system.

Government publicists originally boasted 29 new regional points of presence created for the new network would extend local call Internet access to more than 94 per cent of Queensland's population.

Six months after the network went into full operation, however, there is no evidence local communities are able to access the Internet through the new POPs, which essentially are data exchanges that create a virtual circuit to the home server of an ISP (Internet service provider).

Ironically, Telstra can't use the POPs with its Big Pond Internet service, even though Telstra created the POPs as part of its contract to provide the Connect.Ed network, because of a technology conflict.

Unlike Big Pond, the POPs support the DialConnect system of IP-based access.

Other national Internet service providers appear to have shied away en masse from using the POPS.

"There's been no take-up because ISPs found both the business model and the technology unattractive," said Paul Wilson, a former executive with Queensland-based ISP Pegasus Networks.

"We looked at it and were greatly disappointed in the pricing structure."

Connect.Ed officials said AOL Australia and Pegasus (now owned by Cable & Wireless Optus) were interested in extending their services into regional Australia via the new POPs.

However, spokesmen for both organisations said they were not using the POPs and denied any plans to do so.

Meanwhile, pricing is not an issue for the schools on the Connect.Ed network, according to Queensland Education project manager Henk Vullers.

Costs are based on download volumes plus a monthly access fee and comparisons by the department indicate that Connect.Ed's prices compare well even with budget-priced service providers, he said.

The consortium which successfully tendered for Connect.Ed includes Telstra, network vendor 3Com, Queensland-based 3Com systems integrator Anixter, and Victorian Internet access tools specialist SchoolsNet.

Help desk support has been outsourced to Telstra and is running at about 1000 calls a month. The main complaint from users so far is that "they want more of everything", Vullers said.

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