Spark launches subsidised broadband to jump Digital Divide

Spark launches subsidised broadband to jump Digital Divide

22 September 2016

Spark announced today a new social programme to bring heavily subsidised broadband to thousands of New Zealand children whose families cannot afford commercial home broadband services.

Spark Jump is an innovative programme for social change. Collaborating with community groups and government agencies, Spark will offer families with school-aged children at risk of digital exclusion entry-level home broadband for as little as $15 - about a quarter the price of the cheapest commercial services available.

“Digital inequality, especially when it comes to online learning, is a significant challenge for New Zealand. Every day, tens of thousands of children do not have access to home broadband and come home from school unable to continue their learning,” Spark Managing Director Simon Moutter said.

“At Spark, we believe New Zealand children deserve to have the opportunity to learn and thrive in the modern digital economy. Spark Jump is our way of helping solve this Digital Divide, by ensuring children have digital access both at school and in the home. It’s very much part of Spark's overall ambition to ‘unleash the potential in all New Zealanders through amazing technology’."

Spark Jump will offer selected families a 30GB no-frills broadband service for just $15. To offer flexibility for families, Spark Jump is pre-paid, no fixed-term contract and includes a modem while they are using the service. The service uses the Skinny Broadband platform and provides “wireless” home broadband via a 4G mobile signal connecting with the nearest cell tower.

Wireless broadband is available anywhere there is a good quality Spark 4G mobile signal. This technology has only been available in New Zealand since mid-2015 and a team from Spark, Skinny and Huawei has been working to develop a heavily subsidised solution. The new service has been successfully piloted over recent months with families in Christchurch and Auckland.

Spark Jump will be administered by Spark Foundation, the registered charity funded by Spark and governed independently by a Board of Trustees. Spark Foundation will partner with local community-based organisations who will identify and refer eligible families. Spark Jump won’t be advertised as a commercial product, it will be distributed exclusively through these community partners to nominated families of school-aged children.

Spark Foundation Chair Nick Leggett says learnings from the Foundation’s four-year partnership with digital learning pioneer the Manaiakalani Education Trust led to the development of Spark Jump.

"Our work with Manaiakalani has shown that the lack of home broadband is a barrier to New Zealand children's learning and that whanau engagement plays a big role in children's educational success. By enabling whanau to support digital learning with home broadband, we can help build on the effectiveness of the Government’s efforts to improve broadband access within schools, through the rollouts of ultrafast fibre and the Network for Learning (N4L) managed network.”

Spark hopes to make Spark Jump available to at least 5,000 families over the coming 12 months and is looking to collaborate with government agencies and community groups to scale to higher volumes.

Linda Tame, N4L Board Director and General Manager of the Greater Christchurch Schools Network Trust (a Spark Jump founding partner) recognises the significant contribution home broadband can make transforming educational outcomes of New Zealand children.

"We have a big task ahead of us, getting our children in the best position for a digital future. Making home broadband affordable for more families is a step in the right direction to empower our children with the skills they need to lead New Zealand into a sustainable future."

Notes to the editor:

Video and imagery is available on request.

According to the 2013 NZ Census, there were 62,000 households with school-aged children which said they did not have home broadband (or which did not specify whether they had broadband).

Spark Jump was developed through a 3-month, small-scale trial with families of Hornby High School and the Ako Hiko school cluster in Mt Roskill, Auckland. The trials have led to a better understanding of broadband needs of families and improvement in the product such as increasing the data allowance from 20GB to 30GB and streamlining the user experience for families who have limited experience with technology.

Spark will work with community partners to expand the initiative across the country. The Greater Christchurch Schools Network, Web Access Waikato Trust and 20/20 Trust will be three of the first partners working with Spark to establish processes and a collaborative model. Spark is also exploring partnership opportunities with the Ministry of Education's Communities of Learning programme. The product and service of Spark Jump will continue to develop in this next phase of community engagement.

Spark's 4G mobile network currently covers about 90% of New Zealand's population and will increase to 97% over the next few years as the 4G network expands. Wireless Broadband is available in a large proportion of this area, wherever there is a sufficiently strong and reliable 4G signal.

Feedback from families on the pilot is summarised in these quotes:

“Luke can now do homework from home instead of the library”

“Kids doing more homework and happy to!”

“It is helping my boys login to school programmes at home, and with my oldest son he can finish his homework using his chrome book”

Contact for media queries

Michelle Baguley
Senior Communications Partner, Spark New Zealand
+64 21 605 057
Michelle.Baguley@spark.co.nz

For high quality Spark New Zealand logos, photographs of the leadership team, and boilerplate to help with your story or event, visit sparknz.co.nz/news/downloads.

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