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Broadband -it's not just for geeks and techos

12 April 2011

I attended an inaugural National ICT Forum in Melbourne recently. The topic under discussion was broadband and its implications for Australia. The line-up of speakers where impressive but the stand-out speaker for me was Dr Tim Williams – Connecting Communities.

Dr Williams started with the observation that in Australia, the NBN debate is mistakenly politicised and focussed on the “plumbing – the pipes and wires”. He noted the futility of this debate, quoting UK Nesta research which indicates that to have a networked community with a stable, high speed, secure, reliable & resilient system; you must have hybrid broadband structure, which includes a key platform of fibre-to-the-home, supporting mobile and wireless broadband.

So his message to us was, stop debating the pipes and start looking at what it can do for your society.

The International Telecommunications Union was quoted as calling broadband the next global “tipping point”, with an unprecedented power to create jobs, economic growth and long term economic competitiveness.

Senator Conroy noted broadband growth in Asia had already demonstrated its capabilities as a social and economic enabler and Australia was playing catch-up.

To put Australia’s broadband debate in context, there are already dozens of countries well ahead of us with their plans for universal penetration of broadband.

As many would expect this does include around 20 countries like the US, Japan, Israel and many of the Western European countries.

But it also includes economic competitors closer to home;- NZ, HK, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore who already has 99.9% penetration.

In the UK, the Government has revisited its plan of getting 50% of the population on-line by 2014 to becoming ‘digital by default’ with 100% of the population on-line by 2012.  

Why such a dramatic change? Because facilitating a fully “networked society” is seen as the single biggest transformative economic development plan available.

This sentiment was mirrored by the speakers from Japan and Malaysia, who confirmed that universal high-speed broadband access was

-         fundamental to their nation’s economic growth plans

-         was mobilising and including the community base unlike ever before

-         transforming industries and revolutionising supply chains

-         changing consumer behaviour & leading to new service/product development

Dr Williams, and indeed all international speakers, provided numerous examples of new benefits to social inclusion and economic development their broadband capabilities were facilitating from tele-health services saving lives in remote communities in Scotland, to raising the education levels of Indian street kids through “open-air” classes broadcast on plasma screens in the slums of New Delhi or doing language training by joining live-classes in Japan.

There were of course, also references to business being able to gain access to global markets via the internet, businesses being able to reduce travel costs via online conferencing, environmental benefits being realised from “wired homes” and consumers reducing their energy consumption, public sector services being delivered on-line, new services and businesses being developed etc etc

All great stuff and all the various business opportunities are very exciting –especially for geeks and techos.

But my blood really started pumping when Dr Williams outlined another startling discovery to his research; rural areas in the UK are now amongst the most militant and vocal supporters of broadband.

According to Dr Williams, UK statistics are showing that many broadband enabled regional areas in the UK have stopped losing people, and in some areas, are managing to attract new populations.  

The broadband rollout has enabled re-population not de-population of regional areas.

What a Eureka moment that could be for all Australian’s, if a simple thing like high-speed broadband really can help ensure the inclusive, active and economically-viable survival of regional and remote areas.



  • Larke Riemer

    Larke Riemer 9 years ago

    Thanks for your blog on this subject Kylie - I also enjoyed the coverage on this topic on 4 Corners. In particular I liked the energy and passion that a business owner in regional Australia displayed for how this initiative will grow his business. He already had an amazing business that was world class and excited about the potential future. How fantastic would it be for Australia to be ahead of the game.