While politicians argue over the cost and the mix of technologies used to deliver a national broadband network, one aspect of the infrastructure-building project has become clear since the opposition released its NBN alternative plan: both sides of politics now agree to build it.
It seems more businesses are also in favour than against it, with a survey of 504 businesses by the Australian Institute of Company Directors finding 49 per cent agreed the NBN was “a positive thing for Australia”, compared with 37 per cent who disagreed.
Labor’s NBN promises to use fibre optic cables to deliver speeds of up to 100 megabits per second to 93 per cent of premises by 2021. The Coalition’s plan promises a combination of fibre and existing copper cables to deliver 25 Mbps minimum by 2016 and 50-100 Mbps to 90 per cent of the fixed line footprint by 2019.
Both plan for satellite and fixed wireless to serve the rest of the country.
As the rollout continues, some companies are gearing up to take advantage of the business opportunities they believe high-speed broadband will bring.
IT Pro met five businesses looking forward to a rosier future when fibre comes to town.
The NBN went live in Gosford in early April and Organise Internet founder Dave Abrahams is on the hunt for new premises in the city centre to satisfy his need for speed.
His current office, two kilometres out of town, won’t be switched on for another six months and Abrahams says that’s too long to wait.
An online consultancy employing six staff, Organise offers services including software automation, private cloud development, website design and video streaming and data analysis for around 150 clients, primarily in the public sector.
“Higher quality service with quicker turnaround will be possible,” Mr Abrahams says.
Plans are afoot to expand sales and design activities once the firm finds a new office already serviced by the NBN.
Mypsych.com general manager Sandra D’Souza says the benefits of high-speed connection in country Australia will be two-fold for the recently launched psychology practice. Rural customers will have access to counselling services that aren’t in easy reach and regional practitioners looking to build their practices will be able to expand their catchment by selling timeslots via the site.
Mypsych allows customers to book psychology sessions with the practitioner of their choice and receive a consultation online, via a video conferencing platform.
Research has shown online counselling can be as effective as face-to-face, Ms D’Souza says, but the connection needs to be up to scratch.
“Overseas markets have far better connections; here, it’s a bit of a struggle,” she says.
“Things are perfect now with the NBN [being rolled out], video conferencing technology is a lot more stable.”
GP turned alternative medicine practitioner Avnesh Ratnanesan also views regional Australia as a rich seam of new clients, once the bandwidth is in place to connect them to the e-health revolution.
The treatment technique practised by Ratnanesan involves tapping different parts of the body and can be used to treat chronic pain, emotional trauma and addiction. Sessions can be delivered in person or via Skype. The clinic employs two practitioners who work out of Sydney and Hawaii and teach patients to self-treat.
Rural and regional dwellers have been restricted from accessing medical and therapeutic treatment options due to geographic distance but the NBN will change that, Dr Ratnanesan says.
“The majority of people value the NBN because of healthcare … this is a form of e-health but in alternative medicine.”
Melbourne entrepreneur Tom Shugg says fibre in regional areas will mean myriad opportunities for his online language school MyChineseTutor.org. Established a year ago, the venture offers Mandarin tutoring via Skype with a team of Beijing based native speakers, for an hourly rate.
While the bulk of demand has come from individuals, Mr Shugg is eyeing the school sector once the NBN is rolled out. Regional schools have struggled to attract second language teachers historically and beaming someone in via an interactive whiteboard may be an attractive and low cost alternative, he believes.
The NBN would allow the company to deliver sessions combining simultaneous tutoring, slide shows and whiteboard use.
“The technology is there but cannot be sustained on [existing] internet connections,” Mr Shugg says.
Bryan West says the NBN will allow more workers to make a tree change as he has done. West is spending a year as a volunteer on remote Carnarvon Station, three hours drive from the western Queensland town of Augathella, where the postman comes just twice a week.
In addition to working the land he has launched a digital art business, Stilllivingart.com, which transforms photos into traditional paintings printed on canvas. Works sell for between $400 and several thousand and customers hail from across Australia and south-east Asia.
“I see the NBN as a workforce transformation tool – less as a means of penetrating the market and more a way of the transforming where and how people work,” West says.
“It can lead to people being able to move from metropolitan areas but continue to work with people in metropolitan areas.”