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Tuesday, 18 October 2011 14:57

NBN: levelling the cost of consuming culture


The co-developer of Australia's first "cultural price index" says that the NBN will go a long way towards reducing the huge disparity that exists between the cost of participating in culture events in urban and rural Australia.

Writing in The Conversation, Stuart Cunningham, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology, says: "Australia's dispersed population and its vast tyrannies of distance has created a major, ongoing, cultural divide. The relative costs of consuming culture between bush and city are starkly skewed in favour of the city, and may be getting worse as culture goes digital and the disparity in access, speed and reliability of broadband makes the bush relatively worse off."

Cunningham and colleagues Jason Potts and Trent MacDonald have develop a method claimed to show the full cost of a standardised basket of six cultural consumption items for a representative Australian household at 30 Australian locations spanning all states and territories, and for a mix of large metro cities, regional centres, and country and remote towns. Costs range from 1.00 in inner city Adelaide to over 4 in Roxby Downs and Bourke and 11.3 in Birdsville.

Cunningham said: "It turns out that Perth and Adelaide have the greatest cultural affordability. Then Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. Wollongong, Gold Coast and Darwin are relatively more expensive again. But these are relatively closely clustered; they lie within a five to 50 percent range of each other."

He says the NBN has the power to greatly reduce this differential. "One of the most important dimensions of the NBN - one that differentiates it from almost all other fast broadband plans - is the symmetry it offers between download and upload capability. Regional Australia will enjoy much faster downloads (cultural consumption will be easier and cheaper), but there will also be huge new potential for cultural participation, exchange and profiling.

"A snippet of that potential includes hyper local journalism providing coverage lost through broadcasting aggregation, hundreds of regional museums displaying their wares across the nation and new businesses made viable by the access provided by fast broadband."

He added: "It is critical that the National Broadband Network's rollout in regional Australia embeds cultural access and participation at the heart of its strategic focus.

"The National Cultural Policy's discussion paper wants to 'better connect what Australia is doing in the areas of arts and creative industries with other mainstream initiatives, such as the rollout of the National Broadband Network'."

The federal minister for the arts, Simon Crean, released in August a discussion paper on a National Culture Policy for Australia submissions to which close on 21 October. Crean said: "The Australian Government committed to the development of a new National Cultural Policy in the 2010 election Arts Policy document Investing in a Creative Australia. This will be the first comprehensive cultural policy since the Keating Government's Creative Nation."

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