Lord Howe island, NSW

Survival … Lord Howe Island is hosting the five-day forum.

THE federal government's high speed broadband network could help stem the exodus of young people from struggling island communities, Australia's first forum on small islands will be told.

Professor Mal Bryce, from Curtin University, a specialist in assisting communities to harness new technology, said islands now had two years to prepare for when the National Broadband Networks' satellites were in orbit in 2015.

Speaking ahead of the forum, which starts tomorrow on Lord Howe Island, he said: ''There will always be a tendency for young people to be attracted to the bright lights but this technology can stem that tide. You won't have to go to universities to access knowledge.

''I have no doubt it will help stem the tide. It [NBN] gives small communities the means of survival. Two years between now and when the satellite is up there is time to work out how to harness the power and what sort of skills need to be developed on these islands.''

The five-day forum, organised by the Lord Howe Island Board, brings together community leaders and industry to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the islands. The board's chief executive, Stephen Wills, said: ''This is the ideal opportunity for us to draw on insight from industry specialists and other similar communities, from both here and abroad."

Jayne Bates, the mayor of Kangaroo Island, the third largest island in Australia, who will attend the forum, said the island had endured ''decades of neglect'' and it was time to thrive.

''We are trying to solve problems of access, infrastructure and power,'' she said. ''While we have electricity we haven't any capacity to grow. The basic principles of growth are missing so it is very hard for us to be sustainable without this basic provision.''