Martin Laverty told a Senate Estimates hearing last week that a deployment in Rockhampton was an illustration of the savings the airborne health service expected to achieve.
“I will give the illustration of the deployment of the NBN in Rockhampton at one of our 24 aero bases,” he said.
“In the current financial year, we will pay $32,000 for access to ADSL broadband in Rockhampton. In the next financial year, we expect to spend $7000. That is a 78% reduction in our costs at Rockhampton for accessing broadband services because of the arrival of the NBN at that location.
According to Laverty, a special rate struck in an agreement between NBN Co and RFDS will enable the charitable medical service to access the Sky Muster satellite network at a special rate.
“In the course of the last few months, we have been in close contact with NBN Co and we have agreed on a partnership as to how we are going to access the NBN as it is deployed gradually across the parts of Australia that we serve,” said Laverty.
“There are four components that make up that agreement. The first is that NBN Co has agreed that all RFDS bases and, importantly, those remote area clinics that we visit on a regular basis — and they total about 300 across remote Australia — will be declared as 'public interest premises'. What that effectively allows is a community services access rate to utilise the Sky Muster satellite services.
“The footprint where we operate is going to partially benefit from fibre to the premise; but principally we are going to be relying on the Sky Muster satellite. This declaration for where we are physically located — our bases — and where we visit on frequent occasions of cheaper pricing to access the satellite is certainly going to enable us to access the service at, hopefully, an affordable rate.
“I want to note that we have not yet settled the pricing arrangements – because, naturally, they have to be provided through one of the 10 satellite resellers for us to be able to access the satellite service.”
Laverty said that RFDS would trial Sky Muster in coming months to assess its viability for use within the service.
“For the next six months, we are also going to be testing six transportable antennas — four will be located in aircraft and another two will be located in some of our ground vehicles — to trial access to the satellite as we move our primary healthcare services around country Australia,” he said.
“I want to underline that that is a trial. We are yet to see the success of the speeds that we will be able to access and indeed the simplicity of the equipment. The Flying Doctor Service is not a telecommunications expert; we are a group of committed health professionals, aviators and administrators, and we will need to ensure that that technology is able to be used simply for it to be robust enough to survive within our business.
“But we will also then be exploring with NBN Co the provision of public interest premise concessions to our medical chest holders. I will explain the medical chest. Across 3500 locations in Australia property owners, station owners and post offices have access to a Flying Doctor medical chest, which comprises upwards of 100 commonly used medicines that are able to be prescribed by the Flying Doctor over the telephone.
“The opportunity for the holders of those chest to also access the Sky Muster service gives us the potential to conduct video health services for the holders of those chests. Many items of technology will have to be tested yet before we will be confident that this is going to be a sustainable service into the years ahead.
"But, again, it is about the potential of being able to harness what is now available to deliver telehealth once we have a robust broadband service accessible to parts of remote Australia.”