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Overseas policies put communities first


Adam Turner

Fibre-to-the-premises is helping develop e-health in remote parts of Sweden.

Paul Budde says Australia is catching up fast.

Paul Budde says Australia is catching up fast.

Patients in remote parts of Sweden are seeing doctors more promptly, owing to the country’s nationwide broadband policy.

Countries such as South Korea and Japan have seen soaring broadband take-up rates, but Sweden was one of the first countries to develop a comprehensive broadband policy focused on delivering community benefits. Sweden’s broadband take-up now rivals the Asian early-adopters, but it also has the most "digitally connected economy in the world", according to a World Economic Forum report.

Like Australia, Sweden’s broadband infrastructure aims to support  remote municipalities as well as  large cities. Also like Australia, Sweden is deploying a fibre to the home network and enforcing "structural separation" - to ensure that  providers and services have equal network access to improve services nationwide. Independent reports have found that Sweden’s fibre-based broadband networks have had "a clear impact on economic growth and population development".

The impact of Sweden’s broadband policies has been clearly seen at hospitals in Solleftea and Boras, in remote areas of the country. The two hospitals have reduced their radiology costs by 35per cent by using broadband to send images to Spain for diagnosis. The hospitals saved more than  €800,000 a year, according to a European Union report. Moreover, patient waiting times also halved as neither hospital had been able to recruit a full-time radiologist and previously relied on visiting locums.

Meanwhile almost half of prescriptions in Sweden are transferred from the doctor to the pharmacy electronically via the national e-health network. The system saves time for doctors, reduces errors and offers patients more flexibility when collecting medications. E-prescribing generated a net economic benefit of €95million in 2008 alone. Sweden is also developing a national electronic health records system to deliver further service improvements and cost savings.

E-health is only one area where Sweden is seeing both social and economic benefits from its national broadband strategy. It is also leading the way in terms of telecommuting and distance education, says Australian telecommunications analyst Paul Budde.

While other countries are experiencing high broadband take-up rates, co-ordinated national policies and universal access are required - such as in Sweden and now Australia - for countries to  see the full benefits of a national broadband network, Mr Budde says.

"What we see in other countries are pockets of high-speed broadband, but to fully reap the benefits of high-speed broadband requires a ubiquitous network. You have to offer services such as healthcare and education on a national scale," he says.

National broadband policies must be viewed as a trans-sector concept, according to Mr Budde, bridging  areas such as healthcare, education and "smart grids" that connect utility infrastructure.

"Sweden is a great example of showing what structural separation of the infrastructure can do," Mr Budde says. "They have over 35 competing companies utilising the basic fibre-based infrastructure. This has led to unprecedented innovations that in turn have resulted in a large number of broadband services in the healthcare, education and energy sectors. Australia has been a relative latecomer to a more competitive telecoms environment. However, it is catching up fast and more than a hundred healthcare, community and education projects have now been launched in connection with the NBN. All these projects have the opportunity to be upscaled as the NBN grows."

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32 comments so far

  • A great Report. Unfortunately the NBN does not have bipartisan support, and once you have a "policy" you tend to ignore all studies that are contrary to your viewpoint.

    Paul K
    Date and time
    April 23, 2012, 10:22AM
    • Great report? This article attempts to equate Australia with Sweden (an area half the size of NSW with 50% more population) using arguments more applicable to corporate use. Supposedly all these benefits will be reaped by Australia due to NBN fibre - yet Mr Budde knows very well that for home apps expanding on existing technologies (such as ADSL2+ and LTE) can meet the bulk of consumer requirements NOW and at much less cost than NBN Fibre To The Home (FTTH).

      Mr Budde also expounds the virtues of potential increased competition from NBN, yet conveniently forgets that a basic tenet of NBNCo is that it will be sold in the future, creating another commercial monopoly. To get a high price for NBNCo its revenues must be high enough to be attractive to a buyer, so prices will not reflect what it costs to provide the service, but will have margins that will be attractive to future shareholders.

      NBN is a flawed and costly project that mercifully will be curtailed in about 18 months.

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 9:26PM
    • Francis, that's just a Liberal cut and paste.
      The current Liberal half-baked 'policy' is to re-nationalise part of Telstra and/or super-regulate that part of Telstra (paying Telstra billions again for doing it). You will have a monopoly whoever is in power.

      The technology part of your post is equally incoherent. ADSL and LTE cannot meet the requirements. Do even a tiny amount of research.
      But coherence isn't the purpose of your post. You just want to pretend that there is an acceptable alternative policy somewhere in the Liberal party to feed the partisans.

      We all know what happens after the election. The Libs will have a magical conversion to the value of the NBN (helped along by heavy arm twisting from the Nats, who love it).
      You will obediently fall into line and talk up the merits of the NBN, as the Coalition takes credit for rolling the thing out.

      Oleg Popov
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 2:23AM
  • A very good article and analysis of another country, however it misses a key point. It is advantageous to connect hospitals, schools and major centres to fibre optics as there are demonstrable benefits, but is it worthwhile to connect individual homes? None of the benefits mentioned require fibre to a home, just the hospital or the pharmacy.

    Date and time
    April 23, 2012, 11:06AM
    • How do you think distance education works?

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 12:10PM
    • Michael: If the infrastructure required to supply these businesses and facilities is going to run past residential areas, why not supply them as well?

      The concept that the Internet for home users is primarily used for porn and pirating no longer holds true. Do some research.

      It will certainly help with decentralization as well as education as bystander suggested. It's going to ease traffic on the roads and public transport as workers can now work from home more easily.

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 12:41PM
    • how about businesses that are run out of the home? just because a business is run out of a house doesn't make it any less crucial to have a fast high bandwidth connection.

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 1:36PM
    • What so many people fail to understand is that 'fibre to the home' (FTTP) will provide a decent UPLOAD speed. It is not just about download speeds, which is presumably what Michael is referring to. Yes, current download speeds may be - just, and - adequate for a small percentage of the population. Upload speeds are woeful! Fibre will change this at a stroke - and this, maybe more than any other factor will allow these sort of applications to take off. In addition, the ubiquitous nature of NBN fibre to 93% of subscribers would ensure we ALL have this capability - not just a small few. Leaving even the last kilometre of the local loop as copper would be a disaster!

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 1:39PM
    • It works over the internet. As i understand there are multiple universities offering online only degrees while there is no NBN. Is it necessary to have fibre optic speeds or just current ADSL 2+ comparable to city speeds?

      I know i could think of other things the 36-50 billion could be spent on i.e new hospitals, schools improved public transport and rail services.

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 4:09PM
    • Or telecommuting? Businesses and workers based in regional towns and cities rather than capitals? It is you who misses the point of what the NBN is capable of delivering for our country's future.

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 4:16PM

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