Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Australia broadband policy update

Lots of developments and interesting publications from Australia recently. The rollout of the National Broadband Network is continuing; in March 2012 NBN Co announced its three year rollout plan:
"Over the next three years, construction of the fibre optic component of the network will be underway or completed in areas containing 3.5 million premises in 1500 communities in every state and territory in Australia - up to one third of the nation’s homes and businesses."
Ministerial press release here. A few weeks earlier, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it had accepted Telstra's structural separation undertaking (SSU) and approved its draft migration plan (ministerial release here). The Telstra Agreement will allow for existing Telstra telecommunications infrastructure to be used for the NBN rollout and Telstra customers to be migrated to the NBN. NBN Co's statement identified this as the removal of "the final major obstacle in the way of the large-scale rollout of the National Broadband Network." Good to see that an area of the NBN Co website is specifically for schoolsMore recent ministerial NBN Co announcements report on the rollout of fixed wireless services in areas beyond the reach of the fibre network that will serve the majority of the country, for example in Far North Queensland. From a related NBN Co press release:
"NBN Co’s fixed wireless network is designed to offer internet service providers with wholesale access speeds of up to 12Mbps, with plans for higher speeds to become available in the future...Unlike a mobile wireless service where speeds can be affected by the number of people moving into and out of the area, NBN Co’s fixed wireless network is engineered to deliver services to a fixed number of premises within a coverage area."
The third review of the NBN by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network has just been published, following publication of the Australian Government's response to the second review in April 2012 (details and the first two reports available here). In addition, the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee, which reviews telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia every three years, published the results of its 2012 review in May, identifying the importance of broadband for education in rural and remote areas. An interesting new report, Smart Technologies for Older People, by the University of Melbourne's Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) addresses the challenges faced by an ageing population and how smart technologies can support older people to remain in their homes. The report includes some startling observations:
"In 2012 the percentage of the world population 65+ was 6.9%, and this is estimated to increase to around 20% by 2050 (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001).This population ageing is unprecedented, without parallel in human history. The 21st century is witnessing even more rapid ageing than did the century just past. Population ageing is pervasive, a global phenomenon affecting every man, woman and child. Different countries are at very different stages of the process, and the pace of change differs greatly. For example, Japan has experienced very rapid ageing to which it has had to quickly respond. Countries like Australia are experiencing a more gradual process where they do have time to adjust (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001). Population ageing is enduring. We will not return to the young populations that our ancestors knew. Population ageing also has profound implications for many facets of human life, including work, housing, transport, leisure, health and relationships."
The study echoes the findings and recommendations of a recent EU report"It is unlikely that the future needs for aged care services in Australia will be able to be addressed by the systems, policies and technologies currently in use in Australia." The opportunity broadband technology presents in this area is clear:
"Products and services based on new technology, such as ICT are developing rapidly, and are used by large parts of the population, including elderly people. Increasingly people between the ages of 55-74 are adapting to use of the internet, mobile telephones, tablets and gaming technologies (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007; Haukka, 2011). For many it will be possible to prolong the period living at home and at the same time feel safe. Monitoring and treatment of chronic diseases can be of higher quality and more continuous. Moreover rehabilitation and many health and social care services can be received in the home setting (Access Economics, 2010). Necessary healthcare can also be given outside home while people are in transition. Tracking technologies can give older people, including those with chronic disease such as dementia, arthritis and coronary conditions, security and freedom to move outside of their home. The internet can support and strengthen the elder’s possibilities to take part in society, communicate with the healthcare system, and access social arenas. Technologies, such as those used in “smart homes” and tracking solutions, can relieve the pressure on caregivers and support their caring work. Administrative technology can aid health personnel in doing a more focused job, where more time can be dedicated to direct contact with patients and to health related tasks...The roll out of the National Broadband Network offers a unique opportunity to link Australians with state-of-the-art technologies with the potential to improve health, well being and quality of life."
Another recent IBES report investigates how new technology in the form of tablets can reduce social isolation in older Australians. Finally, A Snapshot of Australia’s Digital Future to 2050 is a report commissioned by IBM examining how "information and communications technology (ICT) enhanced with ubiquitous high-speed broadband is becoming Australia’s new utility – as historic and game changing as electricity or telephony." From the executive summary:
"Already in 2012, ICT enhanced by emerging high-speed broadband and online information is expected to deliver revenue of $131 billion in Australia. Based on this report by 2050, this new utility will generate around $1 trillion in revenue. Reports indicate that, for every ten percentage point increase in broadband penetration, GDP increases by 1%; doubling an economy’s broadband speed increases GDP by 0.3%. Today, even with our present ‘pony express’ form of broadband, the value of the internet to the Australian economy rivals iron-ore exports."

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