The half day forum, convened by the Prime Minister, was held at the University on NSW on Friday 5 October. In attendance were executives from Australia’s telco executives, ISPs and web companies. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy took a back seat – it was the PM’s show.
“I’ve called this forum today to ensure we are ready to take advantage of the opportunities of the digital economy,” said the Prime Minister when opening the event. “And nothing is more important to its success than building the NBN. Not only building it – but doing it right, upfront.
“The NBN is what the economists call a ‘public good’. One of those projects like the transcontinental railway, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Snowy Mountains Scheme that creates a wealth of indirect benefits beyond those that can be calculated on a spreadsheet.”
The Prime Minister said that not so long ago that thinkers like Barry Jones were counselling us to be ready for the digital future. “That future is well and truly here. In a range of visible and invisible ways, it’s already integrated into all of our lives, and into our nation’s economy.
“Economic activity directly related to the internet contributed $50 billion to the Australian economy in 2010, but the indirect effects are just as important. The direct contribution of the internet to GDP is expected to grow from $50 to $70 billion by 2016 alone.
“These effects aren’t captured in GDP figures but they’re worth an extra $80 billion a year. A recent report by Deloitte Access Economics found that one-third of our economy will be significantly affected by digital-driven change in the next three years. It would be a change on the scale of the tariff cuts of the 1980s, with the biggest impact to be felt in the retail, finance and media sectors.”
A range of speakers highlighted how their organisations were using the NBN, and how beneficial it would be to Australia. Their presentations were also made via live webcast. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said that there were now 23,000 users of the NBN and that projects either completed or would be underway by the end of the year to reach 750,000 homes.
Australia Post CEI Ahmed Fahour said that Australia Post did not see the NBN as a threat, buy as an opportunity “”If anyone is going to cannibalise Australia Post it ought to be us.” IBM Australia’s managing director Andrew Stevens said that high-speed broadband is the basis for IBM’s confidence that the Australian economy is about to enter a new era of growth built on productivity gains.
“The last major lift in national productivity occurred in the mid-1990s, when local business and government agencies invested heavily in IT and reaped the gains from automating and streamlining operations. We need to keep investing.”
Virgin CEO John Borghetti said the government should make free Wi-Fi available in more places. “We look forward to the day there’ll be open Wi-Fi and other infrastructure provisions made compulsory by public area operators like shopping centres, railway stations, and post offices” he said. “I think we put road blocks on ourselves by limiting our thinking, and by not forcing businesses to facilitate digital communications in the premises they occupy.”