The regional opportunity of connectivity


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Some might say there are two nbns in Australia: the one that has long been used as a political battering ram; and the one I work for. That's the one that is available to a third of the country today, 70 per cent of which is in regional and remote Australia.

This time next year, half the country’s homes and businesses will be able to access the network, and the year after that, 75 per cent. At our peak we will be activating someone every three seconds.

On current plans, everyone will have access by 2020. I can say this with the confidence of a company that has delivered nine successive quarters of meeting or beating its targets.

While none of us at nbn underestimate the complexity of the build, many people do, so it's important to put it into perspective. Some compare us to Singapore, which is a fully fibred city state.

Singapore is a country that is 700,000 square kilometres; Australia is ten times that size. Singapore has 8,000 people per square kilometre; we have three. Not 3,000, three.

We have an enormous task ahead of us, but we don't shy from it. Instead, at the nbn I work for, we embrace and relish the challenge ahead.

So why is the nbn™ network important to regional Australia?

Pictured: nbn™ Sky Muster™ ground station in Bourke, NSW.

If you think about the way our online behaviour is changing, you'd be mad not to be taking part. There are 3.3 billion internet users in the world, undertaking 2.9 billion searches on Google every day.

If you are in business and you are not one of these searches, you are missing out on the $2.2 trillion annual online retail dollars that are being spent. There is no denying the power of the internet and the use of social media.

Facebook is the number one social network globally. With 15 million users in Australia alone, the opportunity to influence is second to none.

If you are not on Facebook, you know someone who is. You are having conversations with people who are being influenced in this space. They are buyers.

And there's clearly no lack of entrepreneurial appetite in Australia. With 23,000 new businesses and 6,000 new micro businesses last year alone, nbn opens the door to digital tools that make business, content and commerce easier than ever before.

It reduces barriers to entry and lowers transaction costs – a physical retail presence isn't imperative when the world can find you online. The nbn™ network makes consumer choice a thing in regional Australia.

Broadband is not a luxury, it is a business necessity, an essential service for all Australians.

Where previously entrepreneurialism has been held back in regional and remote Australia, the nbn™ network now provides broadband to these areas as the network is rolled out.

We've seen regional innovation in the mining and resources sector and the agriculture sector, but we haven't yet truly tapped the opportunity in the regional cities.

The Regional Australia Institute says regional Australia currently contributes 15 per cent to the economy. There's no reason, with universal connectivity, this can't be greater.

Putting numbers aside, I'd challenge you not to think of the nbn™ network simply as an infrastructure network, but of the possibilities of a universally connected country.

The benefits in health, education, business and lifestyle are enormous. And the impact on the economy can only be positive.

Last year we teamed up with CSIRO to do remote eye testing for people in Torres Strait Island and remote parts of Western Australia.

We had 1,000 people visit their local community health centre where they connected with a metro eye specialist over the nbn™ network. The tests identified 68 people at significant risk of blindness and intervention has been made possible.

The McIntosh family lives in outback South Australia, five hours north of Adelaide. The children are third generation students of School of the Air.

Through the nbn™ network they went on a virtual excursion to the Great Barrier Reef with a qualified diver, meeting sharks and sea life they have never seen before.

This learning and life experience is something metro students take for granted.

These are just two examples that demonstrate the possibilities the nbn™ network can bring communities.

Local businesses taking advantage 

 

So what can business achieve with better connectivity? Just look at Noel Penfold from the Murray. He lives 20 kilometres outside Wagga and runs one of Australia's top fisheries.

He has increased his annual fish exports from 200,000 to 2 million in 5 years.

Since getting access to services over the nbn™ network he has doubled exports to China, improved customer service and increased local employment.

What a connected community can achieve – Chattanooga and Barcelona in 2016

Looking abroad, for those who don't know Chattanooga, it's in Tennessee. With a population of 171,000 it is about the size of Townsville.

They have installed fibre and speeds were 200 times the US national average. In 5 years they've gone from $0 to $50 million of venture capital supported by five funds.

Connectivity has enabled $6 billion of capital investment in manufacturing, from the likes of Volkswagen, Amazon and Wacker establishing sites locally.

This has driven $100 million in annual revenue and more than 6,000 new jobs. Once known as the dirty city, Chattanooga is now a thriving regional economy.

Take this one step further, Barcelona is a great example of a city taking connectivity to another level. They are not just connected; they are a true smart city.

Their IoT goes beyond devices to contextual analytics where smart parking is reducing congestion; smart meters are improving efficiencies; smart lighting is reducing consumption and increasing safety; and smart business is changing the face of the community.

There is a dedicated hub for business where anyone local or global wanting to set up a business can get assistance in relation to funding; recruitment; or start up advice, driving employment and growth.

Think too about the attractiveness for global businesses, with foot traffic data available, the opportunities to locate retail outlets and target real buyers are endless.

Embracing better connectivity 

These are just some examples of what we can do by embracing universal connectivity. I hope they give you pause for thought.

You don't have to be on the nbn™ network today. Wherever you are, it's not far away. If you are not preparing today, it's likely your competitor is.

You need to start thinking about the move to the cloud and how to take full advantage of connectivity. There is no question that we have the hunger and the brainpower, and we clearly have the opportunity.

What we don't have anymore, is an excuse.

Karina Keisler presented on this topic at the Regional Australia Institute's 2016 City Deals conference in Canberra on Wednesday, 14th October, 2016.


Last updated on 17 August 2018