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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (October 11, 1999 – Cook Islands News)---Government plans to introduce a free internet service for Cook Islands schools are still being knuckled out. Details at this stage are sketchy.

Deputy Prime Minister Norman George recently announced plans to introduce the service into public and private schools throughout the country. He urged Education Minister Jim Marurai and the Education Department to get involved.

"This is a great innovation, and will provide extra teaching resources, and standardize the teaching levels," said George in a press release.

He said the idea has been around for a while, and it's "now up to the Ministry of Education to seize the opportunity."

Norman George gave credit to new Telecom Cook Islands’ Board Chairman George Pitt for developing the idea.

"I don't see any financial difficulties for schools to adopt this idea, because prices are not exorbitant," the DPM said.


What prices George is referring to when the Internet service is supposed to be free is unclear.

Cook Islands News questions to the Prime Minister's Media Office on how the service will be funded, who will set it up and a request for copies of any reports on the proposal were unanswered.

Some teachers have commented to Cook Islands News that not many schools have computers for use by the students, especially those in the outer islands, and the government is unlikely to be able to afford to supply schools with equipment and software.

They liken the plan to putting the cart before the horse.

Meanwhile, the DPM paid tribute to former Telecom Board Chairman Trevor Clarke, who "has always provided good service to the people."

Internet charges dropped by 40% recently. According to the PM's office press release, Telecom is looking to lower the cost of toll calls very soon.

Mr. George said he hoped it would be before Christmas.

"If we lower the toll charges, then more people are likely to make more calls."

According to the DPM, the government is keen to upgrade Telecom services, and more changes are in the pipeline, although he did not elaborate on this.

George said plans are being laid to allow the buy back of 20% of Telecom Cook Islands’ shares from Telecom NZ.

"We have the right to buy them back every three years, and when this happens it will be a commercial not a political decision. We may buy them back early next year or in three years’ time, but at the moment the shares are too expensive."

He said, "Everyone will have an opportunity of buying shares," which will be distributed equally. And when the time comes to buy them back, we will give the public at least six months’ notice, so they will have time to save up and buy shares if they want."

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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