The National Broadband Network (NBN)
Local government has a significant role in the development of sustainable broadband services, particularly in regional areas. The Australian Local Government Association has been active in advocating the establishment of broadband and has been at the forefront of calls for greater connectivity across all communities in Australia. It is important to ensure that telecommunications services are equitably delivered and affordably priced for all Australians, and that no group of Australians gets left behind as technologies become more advanced.
In April 2009 the Rudd Government announced that a new company, NBN Co, would be established to build and operate a new, wholesale-only, open access, superfast broadband network at an estimated total cost of $43 billion. Information on the NBN is available from (http://www.nbnco.com.au) and NBN Co’s Corporate Plan is available at (http://www.nbnco.com.au/about-us/corporate-plan.html).
ALGA has argued consistently that broadband is a key enabler of services and it strongly supports the need to focus on realising the opportunity and understanding the potential that access to the National Broadband Network (NBN) will provide to business, communities and governments, including local government.
Access to broadband will build on the benefits that flow from access to online services in general. Local governments have identified a range of potential benefits of going online:
- to extend and enhance the service delivery capabilities of local government to the community;
- to realise efficiency and productivity gains with the aim of reducing the cost of service delivery;
- to provide a greater level of communication and interaction between local government and the local community;
- to provide a community leadership and economic development role (particularly in regional areas); and
- to provide the ability to work more effectively across levels of government in delivering coordinated 'whole of government' services at the local level.
One of the major potential benefits of high-quality, reliable and affordable broadband will be the ability of residents to conduct e-business with all levels of government, including local government. Councils recognise the potential of broadband to their council and their communities.
National Economics, which had undertaken research for ALGA for many years, has specifically looked into the importance of broadband, and more particularly, the lack of high speed broadband. The critical importance of reliable, accessible and affordable high speed broadband infrastructure to the national economy and the economic and social wellbeing of Australians was detailed in the State of the Regions report.
The 2007-08 State of the Regions report estimated that $3.2 billion and 33,000 jobs had been lost to Australian businesses in the preceding 12 months due to inadequate broadband infrastructure.
The 2008-09 State of the Regions report points out the benefits of broadband to remote regions of Australia. For remote regions broadband is expected to be significant in reshaping the local economy, building skills and providing greater access to services, such as health and education, to those communities and individuals which currently have very limited access.
ALGA’s submission to the House of Representatives inquiry into the role of the National Broadband Network in February 2011 outlines that access to affordable and reliable broadband services creates significant opportunities for local government and local communities including:
- the delivery of local government services via the internet;
- joined up government services;
- facilitation of business networks and services to support local and regional development; and
- social and community benefits
The Government has signalled a greater focus on regional development in the rollout and has asked NBN Co to ensure that fibre is built in regional areas as a priority. It has also encouraged NBN Co to explore mechanisms by which community inputs and advice on regional priorities can be facilitated in order to overcome the digital divide and improve the efficiency of the rollout. This regional focus is important in ensuring equal access to those communities.
ALGA has prepared a set of guiding principles for the rollout of the National Broadband Network which stress the importance of consulting with local communities, and has acknowledged that the Government and NBN Co have been working in the spirit of the principles already. The Guidelines are available here.
The first trial sites to receive broadband were announced in March 2010 and based on the experiences and learnings of these councils, NBN Co and ALGA worked together to produce a framework that councils may wish to use when they are initially contacted by NBN Co. A Best Practice guide for Councils dealing when initially dealing with NBN Co was released in June 2011.