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NBN to stop the rural brain drain

While the National Broadband Network has been touted as a boon for education and healthcare, one of the biggest benefits to Australia could be in its ability to stimulate regional economic activity.

Speaking at a webcast panel discussion on the effects of the NBN on Australian society, organised by NBN Co, Viocorp chief operating officer, Rachel Dixon said the NBN would act as an economic stimulus to regional small and medium business.

"There is a perception in this country and other countries you need [high speed broadband] in the cities, but one of the transformations is that not only does the NBN connect every household in the country but every business in the country.

"If I lived city like Armidale or Tamworth or one of the areas outside those cities, I would have to move to Sydney to open an office ... If I have access to a network that is connected to the world, then I can [have] my business in regional Australia -- not the city -- and I can find people who are educated."

Echoing Avaya director, Roy Wakim's recent observation that small and medium enterprises could reap considerable benefits from the NBN by utilising Cloud-hosted services, Dixon said regional start-up businesses could benefit from faster and more reliable access to Cloud providers.

"If you are starting up a small business in a regional area right now, all you need is a couple of laptops and you can rent the software and services you need ... you can call up a cloud provider and say you want to rent your accounting package and your HR package and you can start a business much more easily and grow it." Also speaking on the panel, communications analyst, Paul Budde, said the effect of the NBN would be to help bridge the gap between regional and rural Australia.

"It doesn't matter where in the world you are, you can have your entertainment, your medical services, your education and you can do business -- you can grow [your business as well]," he said.

"There are people out in regional and rural Australia with good ideas ... we should tell them to come forward. Come and see people in Canberra and at the NBN Co and start talking about them. People in regional Australia please stand up and make yourself heard."

Budde said the NBN also had the potential to keep younger Australians within regional and rural communities as they would no longer need to move to major cities in order to access employment and greater career options.

"[Regional communities] long before we had the NBN understood ... how critical the NBN was for the future," he said. "[The NBN] gives young people the opportunity to move into these new businesses. Regional Australia knows exactly what it wants and it can't get [the NBN] quick enough."

Also speaking on the panel, NBN Co applications advisor, Sean Casey, echoed comments made earlier this year of NBN Co's head of product development and industry relations, Jim Hassell, that applications and service providers were already devising new offers which made use of the NBN's high speeds.

"We're building the network, but there is going to be thousands of people developing the applications which will run on the network -- CSIRO, NICTA, University of Melbourne, Institute for a broadband enabled society, RMIT...", he said.

"You are seeing a lot of effort form these universities. Where is the creativity and the next application going to come from? It is going to come from the universities."

Viocorp's Dixon said Australian companies, such as her own and Atlassian, were already developing applications which make use of the NBN, but that what Australia also needed was more technology entrepreneurs in regional areas.

"It would be great if we could have more software developers, more people studying in Tamworth ... and building businesses in those regions," she said.

Commenting on the prospect of the NBN being rolled back under a Coalition government, Dixon said the amount of pushback from business if the government were to cut back the NBN would make such a move politically unwise.

"[Business] will demand that the government [keep rolling out the NBN]," she said. "Business has sat around for 15 or 20 years waiting for the market to solve this problem and the market has not solved the problem [of a lack of broadband infrastructure].

"[Now] we have a state for what is possible ... We have reached a threshold and whatever government we have in power will have to continue with [the NBN]."


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