An information resource to help councils in areas of Australia that are not located in the National Broadband Network (NBN) test sites needs to be created in order for them to prepare and learn from other councils' experiences, according to a visiting broadband expert.
UK-based, Dr Tim Williams, was in Australia to present a white paper called <i>Connecting Communities: The impact of broadband on communities in the UK and its implications for Australia</i> to the Federal Government’s Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee.
He was also meeting with councils in the NBN test sites such as NSW’s Coffs Harbour City Council, which was announced as a test site in August, to see how they were using high speed fibre to improve services.
“For these councils, the NBN has been a catalyst for them to think about the digitisation of their services,” he said.
“They also want to make sure that the telehealth capacity of the NBN is exploited. For example, at Coffs Harbour, the council is working with the local GPs network to get a telehealth pilot going in the area.”
Williams said Australia needs to make sure the experimentation that is going on using the NBN is shared so that other councils “don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
“They should be able to find a Web-based library of interesting experiments that are going on such as how you deliver social care to elderly people using telepresence technology where doctors can diagnose the patient remotely,” he said.
He added that the NBN rollout meant that citizens could act as the eyes and ears of the council.
“For example, citizens are conveying information about illegal rubbish dumping by taking photos of the rubbish on their iPhone,” he said.
“There are also council workers using their iPad to engage with citizens on social media sites.”
For councils not based in NBN test sites, Williams advised them to get citizens ready through a couple of steps. His first suggestion was to get local Internet service providers (ISPs) to provide public sector fibre into areas that were not in the NBN test sites.
Another way to get citizens ready for the NBN would be for facilities that already have a high speed fibre connection, such as universities, to “open their doors” so that everyone has a chance to experience faster broadband speeds.
“Regional Australia is hungry for the bandwidth and the quality that they expect from high speed broadband,” Williams said.
He also added that the councils he spoke to in the test sites were unhappy that the NBN had become a federal political debate between the Gillard Government and the Opposition party.
Opposition communications spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull, recently slammed the NBN as overpriced with too much government intervention, and said that China had a more competitive broadband market than Australia thanks to the project.
“Local councils are being pragmatic and saying `we don’t care about the political debate, we think it’s a good thing and we want it rolled out as soon as possible,” Williams said.
Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick
Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU