Vision For Our Digital Future (20/05/2010)

In this opinion piece published in the Illawarra Mercury, Stephen Jones argues the case in support of the National broadband_300w.jpgBroadband Network.

IN 1949, four years after the guns fell silent in Europe and the Pacific, Australia embarked on building a piece of economic infrastructure that became the largest engineering project in the nation's history.

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme took 25 years to complete and stands today as one of the defining achievements of post-war Australia.

The ultimate success of the Snowy scheme reminds us that government has an important role in building critical infrastructure to secure economic opportunities and future prosperity.

Today we face a similar challenge in mustering the vision to imagine the development of the digital economy.

Labor's National Broadband Network is a crucial piece of infrastructure for our digital future. The aim is to provide all Australians with affordable, reliable, high-speed access to digital content, applications and a range of services - many that can't yet be imagined.

A rigorous implementation study recently concluded that the Rudd government could aim higher than first anticipated and extend fibre-to-the-home for 93 per cent of Australian households and the 1.3 million new premises expected by 2017-18.

The same study also confirmed the network could be built on a financially viable basis with affordable prices for consumers, even without Telstra.

The network will usher in new communication tools and next wave applications that will revolutionise commerce, health care, tourism and education, even the way we work.

The Illawarra and the Southern Highlands need high-speed broadband to keep pace with the economic progress of our capital cities. At the moment, many businesses and households in Throsby have poor or inadequate access to ADSL. With more than 67 per cent of small businesses in the region being home-based, access to quality broadband is not a luxury - it is critical to their survival and to the economic future of the region.

Our business community and educational institutions are right behind the network, including Regional Development Australia (RDA) Illawarra, the University of Wollongong and our federal representatives Jennie George and Sharon Bird.

A recent RDA Illawarra submission to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy made a compelling argument for early roll-out in this region, citing our geographic position in relation to Sydney, population base and density, availability of world-class research and technical support and a growing telecommunications industry.

With Minnamurra and Kiama Downs named as two of the first five mainland test sites for super high-speed broadband, the Illawarra and Southern Highlands are well positioned to benefit from an early roll-out.

The single biggest threat to the network project is Tony Abbott who has confirmed, that if elected, a Coalition government would scrap the project.

The Coalition policy to scrap the network is another example of the alternative government abandoning the policy field in favour of the cynical politics of opposition for opposition's sake.

Just like the Snowy Hydro, the network is a critical piece of economic infrastructure that has the capacity to transform our lives.

The Coalition should adopt a bi-partisan approach to building the network and help the Illawarra and Southern Highlands realise the economic benefits that the digital future promises.

This article first appeared in the Illawarra Mercury.