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CSIRO: Australia could miss out on broadband's benefits

New broadband networks could be ‘‘the most important infrastructure built in Australia this century’’ but only if more people had the confidence to go online.  

About four millions Australians still do not use the internet because they do not know how to, are unable to connect or cannot afford a connection, according to the CSIRO’s new survey on how the country can benefit from the next generation of technology.

Australia has not yet understood the benefits of broadband, says the CSIRO.
Australia has not yet understood the benefits of broadband, says the CSIRO. Photo: Reuters

‘‘Even if Australia’s next generation broadband infrastructure is accessible from every premises in the country, this does not ensure universal adoption and participation in the digital economy,’’ CSIRO’s report warned.

Lower income households were more likely to use smartphones to access the internet rather than computers, while people in regional areas still relied on telephones or face to face contact when dealing with local councils, government agencies or searching for jobs.

Research for the Broadband Impact and Challenges report was conducted by the CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation (ACBI). It was within the CSIRO’s charter to research and address major national issues like agriculture, water and technology, ACBI director, Colin Griffith, said.

Australia’s future wealth and wellbeing would be tied up in the services economy and ACBI was using ‘‘technology and science research skills to understand the dynamics of the digital economy’’, he explained.

The report focuses on the potential benefits of ‘‘next generation broadband’’, which it defines as minimum download speeds of 30 megabits per second (Mbps) on networks with symmetric capability – where uploads can travel at the same speed. Next generation broadband should also be scalable, so that consumers can buy faster speeds when needed.

‘‘Symmetry is really important (for) two-way capability such as video conferencing where you are sending and receiving an equal amount of information,’’ Mr Griffith said.

The report did not make specific recommendations on ways to increase internet usage.

Less than half of Australian businesses had an online presence, the ACBI found. ‘‘It is not just about getting online or having a website.....but the statistics show that being able to take and receive orders online has a strong correlation with longer-term profitability,’’ Mr Griffith said.

He was surprised to find businesses were unaware of the opportunities they could draw from creating an online presence. Several businesses said their website generated more quotes and enquiries, but that this had not translated into an increase in business.

Last week, new NBN Co rollout figures showed two thirds of the premises that could connect to the national broadband network had not done so.

ACBI also found that poorer people used the internet more to access government services and social networking, while wealthier households used the internet for news, socialising through email, and buying goods online.

A study of internet use in households in Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie also found internet access improved a persons’ quality of life.

‘‘Online information-seeking was the single significant predictor of perceived control over one’s life, a cognitive measure of wellbeing. Using the internet for social and communication activities was the single significant predictor of positive mood, (also) a measure of emotional wellbeing,’’ the survey found.

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