ICT lobby groups: time to give the NBN some spin

With NBN installation well under way, it is time to start getting industry and the public on side.

Now that the first towns to be connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN) have been announced, it is time for the government and the ICT industry to work on promoting the rollout, according to two Tasmanian ICT lobby groups.

Prime minister Kevin Rudd announced this week that Smithton, in Tasmania's north-west, Midway Point, north-east of Hobart, and Scottsdale, north-east of Launceston, would be connected to the NBN by the end of the year.

Although there has been some criticism that these locations were chosen because they are marginal seats, TasICT's president Peter Gartlan said they make sense geographically.

“The expectation was always that they were going to start with towns that were reasonably rural and remote. Part of the exercise was to work from the outside in and if you look at a map of Tasmania you will see that [the proposed towns] are geographically evenly distributed around the State,” he said.

“I don't know if there was an ulterior political motive, but it makes sense from a distribution perspective.”

Digital Tasmania spokesperson Andrew Connor agreed.

“It could have been good to start in towns that don't currently have any ADSL at all. However, most places now have some level of coverage, even those with a population of under 50 as there are 202 exchanges in Tasmania, 136 of which have ADSL through Telstra wholesale,” he said.

“They just had to start somewhere. I'm sure more towns will follow pretty quickly after these ones have been connected. Everyone will have it eventually.”

Both Gartlan and Connor said now that the installation is well under way, it is crucial to start getting the public on side with the roll out.

"There are two parts of this project: the installation stage and then the exploitation stage. The installation phase will be time consuming, expensive and slower than people want. We'll be very glad to be past that so we can start concentrating on the exploitation phase and start to generate more enthusiasm around what the benefits will be to the business community and to society generally,” said Gartlan.

“The installation stage is now well under way, but the exploitation stage needs to begin and run in parallel to that. There needs to be education and there has to be enthusiasm around this. The ICT has a responsibility to play a role in this area as well as the government, because it will obviously benefit from the NBN, but it is only a short window of opportunity so we have to be working on this now.”

Vendors will obviously lead the way in educating industry and the public but ICT workers can also play their part by educating the businesses from within, according to Gartlan. He admits that it is hard for businesses to develop a business case for the NBN while there is still no price structure announced; a process he realises will take some time.

Connor likewise stresses that it is important to explain why the NBN will take time and money to build and for this reason he has urged Senator Conroy to develop another awareness campaign along the lines of the digital ready campaign of a few months ago.

“We need to explain that it is not just faster Facebook, but that it will enable any number of other multi media applications, some of which have not even been thought of yet. We are still seeing a lot of letters to the editor in the paper from people asking what the NBN is going to do for them. One recent letter was asking whether the NBN would just result in more channels with Simpsons re-runs,” he said.

Digital Tasmania has posted a map of the planned initial roll out on its Digital Tasmania Web site.

“There is a lot of existing fibre in there that is managed by Aurora, but there are also some new cable links planned, (in orange) so they are obviously thinking ahead. A couple of those new legs go out to the East coast which means that they will not just connect all the towns in between but these cables could also be linked to form a new route between the north and south of the state,” he said.

That, he said, pretty much follows what Telsta has done. It has one link up through the centre of the state and another around the edge for redundancy.

Connor has added up the length of the planned new cable roll out and it comes to about 270km.

“However, the tender was for about 560km so there is probably some more fibre up [the Government's sleave] for further expansion - and that is just for the initial backhaul roll out.”

Connor said that one of the first towns to be connected, Scottsdale, has about 17km of streets. He calculates that the cities will need thousands of kilometres of fibre.

Track the progress of the broadband rollout via the NBN Project tracker.

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