Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Parliamentary Inquiry into the role and potential of Broadband

The Australian Parliament has invited submissions for an Inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network by 5 February 2011. This is a very important topic, as while billions of dollars have been committed to building a broadband network, little thought or investment has gone into what it might be used for. What is needed is an updated "Vision for a Networked Nation" to envision how the NBN will be used. Roger Clarke and I wrote a submission for the assorted government inquiries into the "Information Superhighway" of the mid 1990s. Australian governments drew on the rhetoric and the specific proposals of this and similar submissions from the ICT community in formulating programs to help the community and industry use what became known as "the Internet" . This is shown in the titles and content of government reports, such as "The Networked Nation" (ASTEC 1994) and (in the "Networking the Nation" policy (1997).

The NBN could greatly benefit the Australian community, both culturally and economically as well as help the Australian environment. Australians will be able to have access to medical, financial and educational services, particularly in regional areas, not currently available. The NBN can reduce dependence on transport of people and goods, thus reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. However, this will not happen without explicit planning and investment. In the absence of planning and investment, the NBN will take jobs away from Australians, particularly in regional areas, impoverish Australian culture and harm the environment.

The NBN will open financial, education, and health service providers in regional areas of Australia to competition from the cities, and all Australian service providers to competition from overseas. In the absence of strategies and investment to help with the change the likely effect of the NBN will be to lower the availability of face to face services and employment, particularly in regional areas.

The NBN will be a major consumer of energy in Australia and s increase greenhouse gas emissions. Consumer equipment made obsolete by the NBN will contribute to pollution of groundwater. An example of where the problem is now occouring is with the transition to digital TV. The Austrlaian government has had a long term plan to replace analogue with digital TV transmission. However, no provision has been made for disposal of millions of obsolete analogue TVs, which are going into landfill.

An example where the NBN could be beneficial is in education. Australia is a world leader in e-learning, with the Australian developed Moodle open source software being deployed in schools, vocational education and universities. As an example the Australian National University uses Moodle for pure e-learning courses, such as Green Information Technology Strategies COMP7310 and Electronic Document and Records Management COMP7420. The ANU also uses the same software for blended online/classroom Engineering 'Hubs and Spokes' Project in collaboration with the University of South Australia. The allows advanced courses presented by world leaders in their field to be made available to more students. The use of online systems also lowers the energy sue and therefore greenhouse gas emissions by replacing classrooms with e-learning and reducing the need for students and staff to travel to a campus.

The Australian federal and state governments have jointly funded programs to educate school and university teachers on how to use online education, including EdNa and the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. These provide the opportunity for not only improving Australian education but also maintain Australia's major export industry in educating international students. It should be noted that the NBN represents a risk as well as an opportunity. Not only does this allow Australian students to enrol in Australian courses online, but they can equally choose to bypass Australian institutions and enrol in overseas courses. The international agreements which Australia has concluded for access to education with countries such as India, not only allows Indian students to study in Australia, but allows Australian students to study in India. The students now need not leave home to do this.

Terms of Reference

The Committee will examine the capacity of the National Broadband Network to contribute to:

  1. the delivery of government services and programs;
  2. achieving health outcomes;
  3. improving the educational resources and training available for teachers and students;
  4. the management of Australia's built and natural resources and environmental sustainability;
  5. impacting regional economic growth and employment opportunities;
  6. impacting business efficiencies and revenues, particularly for small and medium business, and Australia's export market;
  7. interaction with research and development and related innovation investments;
  8. facilitating community and social benefits; and
  9. the optimal capacity and technological requirements of a network to deliver these outcomes.

From: Terms of Reference, Inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network, House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, House of Representatives, Australian Parliament, 16 November 2010


  1. Education is the key in anything we want to succeed in. Thanks for the clever insights. By the way, are you considering of taking an online course? If so, you might want to consider AOT which stands for Accredited Online Training. See for yourself! Thanks and good luck!

  2. A growing cross section of the world’s population is emerging that is at home with the web and that fully expects part of its education to be delivered online. Online education promises to expand access (by learner life stage, geography, and time commitment) and could eventually reduce the cost of delivering education around the nation and the world.