Local councils have begun planning their move onto the National Broadband Network under the expectation it could save them thousands of dollars a month connecting facilities.
Armidale-Dumaresq Council IT manager Keith Lockyer told iTnews the council would look to sideline its existing contract with Telstra for Government-wide IP (GWIP) fibre services once the second portion of the Armidale rollout was completed by mid-next year.
The first NBN services in the town were activated last month.
NBN Co's rollout in the area to date had not passed some council facilities that sat on the fringes of fibre serving area.
The second phase of the NBN rollout in the town would cover its central district and connect most of the local council facilities.
Lockyer said the council wouldn't witness many benefits in the bandwidth, as most needs were served currently with Telstra's GWIP offering, but the council could potentially save "thousands of dollars" a month by moving to the NBN.
"The limitations on [GWIP] are it's expensive, and it doesn't cover all of our sites," Lockyer said. "The NBN allows all connections to all of the locations, for a lower price."
The council has looked to identify sites not previously covered by fibre, such as treatment plants and pumping stations, that could also be served with more bandwidth-heavy applications.
Smaller offices would be moved from existing wireless and ADSL connections to fibre, while the council could also replace its current SMS message system for controlling lights at public parks.
"We're looking to manage those sorts of facilities, but we need better bandwidth; we need to have fibre to those areas," he said.
Townsville, expected to be the third mainland site to be activated with user trials beginning in coming weeks, would also look to link most of the council's 100 disparate sites together once fibre had been rolled out more fully in the town.
At least two of the council facilities included in the first phase of the NBN mainland rollout would receive active connections within months.
Senior economic development officer Doug Hayward said the council was looking to use the $36 billion network as a complement to its existing, 1 Gbps private fibre network and as a replacement for the mix of ADSL and wireless connections at smaller offices.
"NBN and the bandwidth that [it] opens up would certainly be beneficial for a number of applications the council would like to run," he said.
These would likely include videoconferencing and file sharing, particularly between two administrative offices 15 kilometres apart in the town.
Mixed in Tasmania
Despite fervour from the likes of Townsville and Armidale, some councils in NBN areas were yet to take up connections to the network, citing facilities outside of the serving areas as well as a need to refresh internal infrastructure.
In Tasmania, where three councils oversee three distinct fibre serving areas, only Circular Head council (Smithton) had connected any of its facilities with an active NBN service.
IT officer Phil Brunt told iTnews that the Circular Head council had replaced a private wireless service at its business services unit - serving three staff members - and a dial-up connection at the State Emergency Services with a 25/5 Mbps NBN service.
The main council building would likely be connected to a 100/40 Mbps service within two months, but first required changes to internal infrastructure.
The higher bandwidth would enable the council to experiment with remote access for its staff and a possible videoconferencing connection to the Waratah-Wynyard council up the Tasmanian coast to assist with shared service arrangements.
However, Brunt said the council, like surrounding small businesses, had been unwilling to fully take up services on the network.
"We're fairly boring at this stage," Brunt said.
"There was a fair bit of hoo-ha around the town [at the beginning]... but a lot of other businesses who have got it connected don't really use it to its full potential. It's underutilised at the moment."
The other two councils overseeing the Tasmanian fibre serving areas of Scottsdale and Midway Point had yet to physically connect facilities to the network, with one council contact telling iTnews "bugger all" had been connected.
Hopeful in Willunga
Lorraine Robertson, mayor of the Onkaparinga council which oversees the mainland first-release site Willunga, told iTnews that the network would likely connect to a council hub and local library in the area within the coming week.
Other facilities in the council's 518 square kilometre area of South Australia remained out of reach.
"At the moment, because our council area is so disparate, there are some areas which just don't have any ability to download, and some of our councillors even experience that problem and have to come into the office to do their emails because their service is so slow," she said.
An NBN Co spokesperson said the rollout prioritised "critical community premises", including government buildings, but their inclusion remained dependent on other factors in determining where to roll out fibre first.
Robertson said the council would look to better take advantage of new applications over the network.
"What we aim to do is because it's such a huge council area, one of the reasons we were interested in getting on early is to connect up all of our services in a much more efficient way."
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy last week announced $17.1 million worth of grants for local governments as an incentive to improve citizen-facing services running on the NBN.
The package, doled out in individual payments of $375,000 to eligible local governments in NBN serving areas, came as part of a renewed push for council participation in the national fibre rollout.
It was accompanied by a best practice guide [PDF] commissioned by NBN Co and released by the Australian Local Government Association on the same day as Conroy's announcement.
For Onkaparinga, the grant would go toward developing electronic tracking systems for development applications, and remote reporting facilities for graffiti and footpath repairs.
Townsville's Hayward also expressed interest in the grants scheme.
Conroy told a smart government conference last week that government infrastructure was vital to greater citizen services.
"It will reduce costs and increase efficiencies at all levels of government, and facilitate direct contact between government agencies and clients including the routine use of videoconferencing," he said.
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