Councils speak out as NBN plans unravel

 

Shared IT, digital visions fall apart.

Discontent with the reshaped NBN is rising among local governments concerned their early-stage investments in preparation for the arrival of high-speed broadband will go to waste.

Councils — particularly those in regional parts of Australia — are also raising concerns about the reuse of copper in the Coalition's NBN, arguing it could introduce inequality in towns that have already received some NBN fibre connections.

Alexandrina Council, Albury City Council, Queanbeyan City Council and Griffith City Council have all made submissions to the Senate committee inquiry into the NBN.

While most local government submissions play on the theme of long-term economic and population growth prospects, it is clear that the sudden change of direction for the NBN is causing problems for those that had incorporated high-speed broadband availability into their planning.

Albury City general manager Frank Zaknich said the community had been "preparing for the rollout of the NBN for more than two years".

"Council has worked in close collaboration with NBN Co, and their contractors, who have actively engaged with us throughout the process both in the preliminary information and detailed planning and design stages of the project," Zaknich said.

"In preparation for the rollout of infrastructure that was to deliver 100Mbps services to urban residents and 25Mbps for those in the city surrounds, we have worked with our community over the past eight months to develop a comprehensive digital economy strategy for Albury Wodonga".

Zaknich said the strategy had been formally adopted by the region's councils in December last year, and implementation of portions of the strategy had already commenced, including training to local businesses and organisations for which council had received federal funding.

South Australia's Alexandrina Council has similarly factored the NBN into its plan for the future.

Information services strategic manager Colin Shackleford said work is "well advanced" with neighbouring councils and Regional Development Australia "in the integration of IT services between councils, the provision of new services for tourism and small businesses, as well as enhancing the role that improved broadband can play in meeting the needs of our ageing community".

"We are currently working with our neighbouring councils on technology projects that rely on high speed broadband to bring significant operational benefits to the councils and improved service delivery to our community and region," Shackleford said.

"These projects include shared ICT services and a video conferencing deployment as part of the Federal digital local government program".

Queanbeyan City Council — which sits just outside of Canberra — had factored technology into its planning for the township of Googong, though mayor Cr Tim Overall did not specifically say planning decisions had been motivated by the NBN.

"Planning has centred on a relatively high proportion of Googong residents working from home or taking advantage of flexible workplace arrangements with work from home options," Cr Overall said.

He said a similar development of "employment lands" was expected to host "a significant number of IT and digital economy businesses".

Griffith City Council simply asked to be prioritised in the NBN project, saying that the Western Riverina region of NSW "cannot maximise" its economic potential without "high speed, reliable internet services in the very short term".

Gosford City Council has already petitioned the Government as part of the Senate inquiry to become a "pilot region" for full fibre deployment as part of a last-ditch effort to have the NBN fibre rollout continue.

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