Picture this. You’re a young business woman walking down the street. You stroll past a digital advertising billboard. The image changes to an advertisement for women’s business wear from Myer – “That’s a coincidence”, you think, as you often shop at Myer. To top it off the model in the image is you.
The display has detected your presence, used an inbuilt camera to scan your face and body, calculated your body mass, gender and age, and changed its content to suit your demographic – its target audience is you and only you.
You take out your smart phone, open an ‘app’ and select ‘show me’. The next time you are in Myer, your phone directs you to the right clothing section – and there you are again, on screen in amongst the clothing displays – it has retrieved your previously scanned image and now displays a selection of clothing in the floor display, in the change rooms, or on your phone, using you as the model.
This is just a glimpse of what we might see, once the implementation of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has enabled a new realm of image technology in Australia – and it’s only the beginning. NBN liberates what was previously a private network, owned by an organisation looking to extract maximum revenues. The new network is owned by all Australians and will be used to generate jobs, increase productivity, improve social outcomes, create export opportunities and invent new industries.
The NBN’s faster access will allow us to do virtually anything from wherever we happen to be. Entire shopping centres will be available online, at the touch of a button and from either the comfort of your couch or the hard, plastic seat of a bus stop. If you don’t have a Kmart or an AutoOne store nearby, you can go online, see what you like, buy it and have it sent to your door – faster and cheaper.
It may not mean much to some, but importantly the NBN promises to deliver ubiquitous connectivity across Australia, not just higher performance in selected areas. This means that, everything, everywhere can be connected. Not just where you live, but where you work, travel or hang out. We’ll get great performance everywhere, as if you were in the middle of a major city.
That interactive home office you’ve been reading about for years will be a step closer and schooling, university or apprenticeships online will mean reduced travel, broader choices and continuity when schools and campuses are disrupted by bad weather or flu outbreaks.
The NBN will facilitate government agencies delivering services and an ability for health care providers to interact with you online. The level and quality of social interaction will also increase. We’ll be able to attend our book club meetings and other social activities, regardless of home responsibilities or illness. The flat-screen in the family room will be much more than a display for TV shows. Those on the road can continue to interact with their families and have a greater presence in the workplace. Additionally, people communicating long distance will be closer than ever to real contact. The possibilities are only restricted by our imaginations.
All aspiration aside, the reality is we won’t get there easily. There are a lot of Australians who don’t cope well with change. With many of our population operating on limited speeds, some will see the NBN as indulgent and unnecessary. It’s our mission, then, to communicate the vision to as many people as possible, so that education on the value of the NBN can spread across the community. We may have to tell our story again and again, but eventually the message will sink in. It’s not good enough, though, to describe the uses for the NBN as “Stuff we haven’t even thought of yet”. Now is the time to start thinking about genuine advantages and describing the future in terms that are appealing and familiar.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy recently released the NBN Co Corporate Plan. The Plan describes the rollout of the NBN, which will begin on the Australian mainland in five new sites, announced in 2010. By June 2013, we can expect to see the NBN pass 1.7 million premises. A plan, however, can only work if the population is on the same page. In order for that to occur, the country needs a national strategy that describes how we will exploit the NBN. We need to know why it’s important and we need to know what’s in it for us and our grandma.
I have a great passion for what the NBN can do for this country. It’s been a long road, but we’ll get there. I was recently invited to join in celebratory drinks with a number of other people working behind the scenes – celebrating the passing of the initial legislation! So far, we have brought about the regulatory changes necessary for the separation of Telstra – now we start building.