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Time To Start Thinking ‘Digital Economy’

by Steve Dalby

The NBN is an exciting development. In the words of Stephen Conroy, it will allow us to do “things we haven’t even thought about”. And we’re all set to have it built by the year 2015.

Where’s the plan though? We seem to have skipped right through to the building of the infrastructure before doing any of the groundwork. I see the end outcome as Australia having a thriving digital economy running full steam. This ‘digital economy’ I speak of is imminent. Yet in the excitement of laying down the new infrastructure, it seems little attention has been paid to why we are doing it.If we pick an area of our current economy – say, our oft-quoted education system – and think about how it will operate online in a digital economy, there is so much work yet to be done. In fact before we talk about education, we need to consider the environment in which it exists today, versus tomorrow.

An example of education in a digital economy will see parents able to research schools available throughout Australia being limited by geographical circumstance. If the school that focuses the most on their child’s needs is located in Perth and they live in Albany, a functional digital economy could allow for the child to attend the desired school without the need to leave home.  “Sure, Dalbs”, I hear you say, “But there’s gotta be a lot of groundwork first”.

To make this work, teachers need re-training, online learning programs need development and resources need to be provided to enable an effective on-line environment. Applications not only need to be created to allow for a student to study at home but also educators will need to know how to develop and use the applications, just like the students.  Of course, funding also needs to be made available for training and development as well as the maintenance of teaching programs.

Why do this? – Is it to limit the carbon footprint of students travelling to and from school? Is it to allow all children equitable access to education? Is it to reduce the level of funding required for physical school infrastructure? Is it to enable the best teachers to reach the best students, no matter where they are?

What is the objective? And how are we going to see that it happens?

On a global scale, Singapore has a novel idea – build up the digital economy to reduce the risk of widespread infection. You’ve got less chance of catching SARS or H1N1 from a school mate or a work colleague if you’re working from home. And that’s one of the drivers of the Singapore NBN – infection control.

What is Australia working toward? “Having the NBN built by 2015” according to Stephen Conroy, and (sadly) “things we haven’t even thought about”. With construction of the NBN already underway, I think it’s well past the time for our government to start thinking about these things.

Singapore started with clear objectives of increasing exports, improving national productivity, creating jobs and limiting the spread of infections. We seem to have just decided to build an NBN and work out afterwards what it’s good for.

Personally I don’t think that’s good enough – and I’m prepared to say as much to anyone who’ll listen. So I’ll continue to write emails, present my views when they’re asked for and draw countless scribbles on whiteboards all over the country. I’ll do my bit to push for a national strategy, even if I have to convince the population one at a time.

3 comments

  1. kirk says:

    You’ve already convinced me, great read :)

  2. Joel says:

    Personally I think that working towards the objective of “Replacing our aging and failing copper phone network with new infrastructure that will support our telecommunications needs in the decades to come” is in itself a goal worthy of the answer “Let’s build an NBN.” All the other stuff that can be done with it is icing on the cake really.

    I do have to wonder what made Conroy think it was a good idea to begin with through, being that he doesn’t seem to be able to formulate the ultimate question of life the universe and everything that he believes the NBN is the answer to… Maybe he thinks he needs to build the NBN to find that out? 😉

  3. Matt says:

    Great post Steve. We hear so much talk about how having faster internet will give us X*. But if we don’t have the infrastructure and legislation in place to deliver X*, it doesn’t matter how big the pipe is.
    In terms of the education point you bring up, I see great promise in sites like: http://www.khanacademy.org/
    But good luck getting our Education Department(s) to launch something as remotely useful as that.

    — The rest is just a whinge —
    * substitute X for any or all of the following :
    Mum has every book ever written at her fingertips (ohh wait the publishers don’t want that) while Dad downloads a box set of his favourite childhood movies (ohh wait the movie industry…) , grandma is having a virtual visit from her remote doctor (ohh wait, there’s not enough doctors to go around as it is ohh and governments want a back door into Skype so they can “protect” us) while the kiddies listen to the latest Lady Gaga album that they just Bit Torrented in 5 seconds (the only thing that will *actually* happen).

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