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Wednesday, 04 March 2009 09:51

Conroy talks up NBN at CeBIT broadband forum

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The National Broadband Network (NBN) will be the greatest thing since sliced bread and is the answer to Australia's economic woes, if one is to believe the rhetoric from the Minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy Stephen Conroy at the world's biggest technology trade fair this week. Speaking to a high level conference on broadband at CeBIT in Hannover Germany, Senator Conroy equated the NBN with economic stimulus.

CeBIT is by far the world's largest IT&T event and attracts around 500,000 visitors to a fair ground the size of 11 football fields with about 25 massive exhibition halls displaying anything from mobile telephones and laptops to the most sophisticated high level telecommunications carrier systems.

The event was officially opened on Monday night by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

While the multi-billion dollar construction of the NBN would contribute to more immediate economic stimulus, it was the network’s long-term contribution to productivity growth and new market opportunities that made it strategically so important for Australia, Senator Conroy told the CeBIT Conference.

Senator Conroy said there was now broad acceptance among both developing and mature economies that the roll-out of high-speed broadband networks was critical to delivering long-term growth.

“The countries that roll-out these networks will be better placed to seize the economic and social opportunities that high-speed broadband enables,” Senator Conroy said.

As the Global Financial Crisis has unfolded over the past year, an increasing weight of opinion has formed for broadband as an economic stimulus,” he said.

Senator Conroy is currently considering five separate bids for the NBN project and is expected to announce a partner for the project soon. However, Telstra is currently not one of the contenders, having been omitted from the tender process under controversial circumstances.

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The absence of Telstra from the NBN process has created widespread skepticism that the network can be built by any of the other would be providers, including Singtel Optus.

The Government has committed $4.7 billion to the NBN project, promising the network would provide high-speed internet access to 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses, and most estimates have the ultimate cost of building the network to be at least $10 billion.

“Investment in broadband infrastructure will provide a boost to short-term employment opportunities while creating a foundation for our future economy,” Senator Conroy said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier told the CeBIT official opening crowd that investment in information and communications technology (ICT) was a critical response to the economic crisis and that ICT was a priority of the German Government’s economic recovery packages.

Chancellor Merkel said the German Government was committed to a timetable that would connect 75 per cent of its regions to super-fast 50Mbps internet connection by 2014 in order to generate long-term momentum for economic growth through the creation of new services. By comparison, the Australian FTTN NBN promises speeds of between 12Mbps and 20Mbps.

Governor Schwarzenegger, who has led a delegation of 50 Californian high tech companies to CeBIT, said the technology sector would play a huge role not just in the global economic recovery, but also in delivering solutions to global problems like reducing carbon emission or revolutionising health care.

This there was no official delegation of Australian companies, unlike the glory days of the 1990s when Austrade displayed a double-story stand with Fosters Beer on tap and more than two dozen Australian technology exhibitors.

While the number of exhibitors at CeBIT had fallen by 25 per cent this year as a result of the global economic crisis, the 4,300 exhibitors from 69 countries still made it the biggest ICT event on the planet.

CeBIT in Hannover is the (massively) big sister event of CeBIT Australia, to be held at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour from May 12-14.

Hannover Fairs Australia Managing Director Jackie Taranto, who is currently in Germany attending CeBIT with Senator Conroy, said that CeBIT Australia was now firmly entrenched as the region’s most important ICT event, and through CeBIT Hannover was an important trade connection into Europe.

“CeBIT Australia is in its eighth year and has grown to become a sizeable global event in its own right,” Ms Taranto said.

Ms Taranto is leading a delegation of Australian business and research leaders to CeBIT.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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