NBN to drive Australia's digital economy: Conroy

Senator announces funding of $96.2 million, maps out information strategy up to 2020

$96.2 million over the next four years has been set aside to aid the development of an Australian digital economy by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy.

Speaking at the CeBIT conference in Sydney, Conroy said that the National Digital Economy Strategy would contribute to Australia’s productivity and bring about improvements including better access to health and education services for all Australians.

“Building the NBN is a key step towards that vision, which has as one of its goals Australia being among the top five Organisation for Economic Cooperation [OECD] countries by 2020 when it comes to the percentage of households connected to broadband at home," said Conroy.

“As part of the National Digital Economy Strategy, we will provide $12.4 million over three years to a Digital Enterprises initiative to assist small-to-medium enterprises and not-for-profit organisations in and around the 40 communities to first benefit from the NBN to help them fully utilise the broadband network."

He also announced funding of $23.8 million over the next three years for a Digital Communities initiative, a focus of which will establishing a 'digital hub' in the 40 NBN sites.

Armidale, New South Wales, was the latest NBN trial site to go live in May, following a similar rollout in Tasmania in April.

In addition, a four year $60 million health and education Digital Regions Initiative was launched. This co-funds digital enablement projects with state, territory and local governments to delivery better education, health and emergency services in regional, rural and remote Australian communities.

Conroy said this funding will support the Australian health system to integrate digital technologies and broadband internet services to improve patient services.

“The Government has committed $2.01 million to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Queensland to establish a landmark suite of telehealth services for patients living in regional Queensland,” Conroy said.

“The project will enable specialists in the city to link with local health care providers in regional areas to undertake remote consultations, diagnosis and treatment recommendations." A further $3.5 million was announced for a trial of in-home telehealth services for Australians with diabetes living in Townsville in Queensland which was also a test site for the NBN.

The trial will involve telehealth monitoring, including health updates and alerts to doctors, along with home teleconsultation and in-home support and education services.

“The NBN will provide a platform that allows homes, doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, clinics, aged care facilities and allied health professionals to connect to affordable, reliable, high speed broadband. This represents a major opportunity to improve the way healthcare is delivered in Australia,” Conroy said.

The strategy documents include eight goals to achieve the digital economy strategy by 2020. They include:

  • By 2020, Australia will rank in the top five OECD countries in the portion of businesses and not-for-profit organisations using online opportunities.

  • The majority of Australian households, businesses and other organisations will have access to smart technology to better manage their energy use.

  • 90 per cent of high priority consumers such as older Australians, mothers and babies and those with chronic diseases, will have access to individual electronic health records. In addition, by 2015, 495,000 telehealth consultations will have been delivered and by 2020, 25 per cent of all specialists will be delivering telehealth consultations to remote patients.

  • Australian schools, TAFEs, universities and higher education institutions will be able to collaborate on innovative educational services that will extend the opportunities for online learning.

  • Australia will have doubled its level of teleworking so that at least 12 per cent of Australian employees may work away from the traditional workplace.

  • Four of five Australians will choose to engage with the government through the Internet or other type of online service.

“By connecting to high-speed broadband, households will benefit through savings generated from time-saving activities such as telecommuting for remote work and study and improved access to business and job opportunities, health, education, social and government services,” Conroy said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Tags Minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economysenator conroyCeBIT 2011telehealthteleworkingNBN

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