FOUR years into the National Broadband Network (NBN) roll-out, which isn’t expected to be complete until at least 2019, some of the issues emerging for this geographically-challenged country are already a big worry.
Chief among them is whether the satellite option that is supposed to fill the gap for remote areas will be anywhere near effective.
Even if satellite does end up adequately filling the gap, come 2019 when the roll-out is expected to be complete, we will have to enter another telecommunications debate about whether NBN Co should be privatised.
In a world of instant messaging, remote consulting and where school students are quickly shifting to a life without books, there is a risk remote Australia could not only be isolated by distance, but also through communications technology.
With current satellite speeds already hindering business activity, it seems there will be a big cost to get a small part (about seven per cent) of the population up to speed.
In 2010 a bill was introduced to Parliament to allow NBN Co to be privatised at some time into the future.
If this happens, what private enterprise is going to want to maintain such a potentially costly service at a price isolated businesses and families can afford?
In the short term, the possibility more rural communities than originally planned (under Labor’s fibre to the premises) will get access to fibre to the node technology is a bonus, but even under the Coalition’s multi-technology roll-out a lot of people will still be waiting another six years to get connected.
For Australian farmers to be competitive on a global stage while also being lumped with high labour and input costs, any leg up they can get is going to become more critical.
Digital technology has a role to play in closing the country-city divide and opening a door to the world for remote businesses and communities, but will only work if the bush can conveniently connect.
With the roll-out already further advanced in more developed areas and shortcomings with service to remote areas emerging, we might already be seeing an opportunity slipping though our fingers.