Thursday, February 03, 2011

Connecting Communities With Broadband

The report "Connecting Communities: The impact of broadband on communities in the UK and its implications for Australia" by Dr Tim Williams was was launched with a talk at the National Press Club in Canberra today at 12 noon. The report was sponsored by Huawei and draws lessons from the UK for Australia. Available are the Executive Summary, The full "Williams Report" and Release from Huawei.

The report is timely as submissions to the parliamentary inquiry into the NBN close on 25 February 2011. Themes of the report were the importance of access to high speed broadband for social and economic reasons. This is is something Huawei should be happy with as a major provider of equipment for both fibre optic and wireless broadband networks. However, from a public policy point of view I do not agree that high speed broadband is most important. The skills to use the
Internet are more important and will provide more value to society, with the use of low speed broadband, or even narrowband.

Dr. Williams claimed the report provided a "balanced scorecard" approach for broadband in various areas. The chapter on "High Speed Broadband Towards With a Low Carbon Future" was particularly interesting to me as I teach Green ICT this to IT professionals around the world.

What was disappointing about this report was that I could find no mention of the differences between the UK and Australia in terms of population density and area. The UK is tiny compared to Australia, but even so has difficulty providing broadband to remote areas. Overlaid on a map of Australia, the UK would look like a postage stamp.

Also it is frustrating to have to have someone from the UK come and tell the Austrlaian government what to do with broadband, when there are world class experts in the field within a few KM of Parliament House. But then it is useful to have an outsider to tell you what should be the obvious. ;-)

After Dr Williams, Peter Quarmby from Community Sector Banking (representative of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited) announced they would sponsor a summit on connecting communities later in the year.

Unfortunately Huawei have chosen to reserve all rights to the "Williams Report" with a copyright notice, making it difficult for Australia to make use of the lessons in the report. In addition the work is presented as a poorly formatted PDF document making use of it for education very difficult. Huawei may wish to consider re-releasing the report with a Creative Commons licence and formatted as web pages meeting Australian accessibility standards, allowing wider use of the material.

Curiously, apart from the announcement of today's launch I could find no reference to this work on the web, not even on Dr. Williams blog. It seems odd that what claims to be a major study was conducted without leaving any presence online. It might well be that there are details of how the project was planned and executed online somewhere, but I could not find it.
Recommendations include:
  • Establish a formal national survey into current patterns of broadband use by individuals and diverse communities
  • Appointment of a National Digital Champion by government – a distinguished lay enthusiast drawn from outside politics and the industry to help galvanise enthusiasm
  • A network of local and sector digital champions
  • Set a target for all to be digitally literate by 2020 and establish the duty to draw up a digital participation plan by all public service providers
  • Legislate so that the regulator ACMA (the Australian Communications and Media Authority) has a duty to promote digital inclusion
  • All public agencies to review how new broadband capacity can transform the design and delivery of services and the process of engagement
  • National and state summits of third sector organisations to share best-practice and agree on plans of action for digital inclusion
  • A national annual digital participation week with national awards
  • Concession Passes for over 65s
  • Establish a national helpline to support those that are having difficulty accessing the internet
  • Facilitate a volunteering program so that young people and other volunteers can “buddy-up” with the elderly online
  • Government to commit to open source principles and sharing data ...
From: Executive Summary, Connecting Communities: The impact of broadband on communities in the UK and its implications for Australia, Dr Tim Williams 2011