Bringing faster broadband to Australia could disadvantage certain households and businesses if there is not sufficient education on how to take advantage of the increased speeds, according to a report by the CSIRO.
"To ensure all Australians benefit from [next-generation broadband], its delivery needs to address changes in user behaviors, business engagement, and unevenly distributed social and economic impacts," the report said.
Less than half of Australian businesses have an online presence, CSIRO research leader, Claire Mason, said at an event launching the report this morning in Sydney.
The percentage is worse for small businesses, she said. In addition, while many small businesses use the Internet for work, few are using it extensively, she said.
One in five Australian individuals are still not using the Internet, Mason said. Common attributes of the group include low income, living alone, not working and an age of 65 or more, she said. People with disabilities are also more likely to be part of the group, she said.
Not providing adequate digital literacy training to these groups could increase the digital divide between them and the people and businesses who know how to take advantage of the National Broadband Network, according to the report.
“The software of broadband infrastructure projects ... needs to be as big as the hardware,” said Malcolm Long, chairman of the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation (ACBI).
Investment is required not only in faster pipes but in the skills to take advantage of them, said Colin Griffith, director of the ACBI.
“Just because someone’s using the Internet or just because the business ... has a website, [it] doesn’t automatically translate into success.”
In the corporate world,“for every little dollar you invest in infrastructure, you probably have got to invest another dollar in terms of business transformation, business reengineering, training and upskilling.”
“If you think about Australia investing several billion dollars in broadband infrastructure over the coming years, are we making that similar investment in ... business transformation?”
The CSIRO report recommended the development of a national broadband strategy and government initiatives to showcase what can be done with the NBN.
“We haven’t got smart governance,” said Tim Williams, CEO of the Committee for Sydney. He called on government to be a unified and apolitical “champion for digital.”
“The last government [should] be commended hugely on doing the NBN, but [it was] rubbish at selling the virtues of the NBN.”
The report also called for greater certainty from the government about what kind of broadband will be deployed.
“Businesses don’t invest based on a theory,” said Kate Pounder, principal advisers on technology for the Australian Industry Group.
“For a lot of businesses, until it’s one year away, it’s not on their top ten to do.”
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