Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has opened the Realising Our Broadband Future conference in Sydney by announcing the first seven projects chosen as part of the government's Digital Regions Initiative.
The government will spend $2.3 million in South Australia connecting ambulance officers to mobile computing services via a high speed network and provide a range of system improvements.
In the Northern Territory, $7 million has been allocated to improvements in health and education for 17 remote towns, supporting the development of local networks and ICT enabled health, education and training services.
North East Victoria will get $500,000 for developing bushfire spotting technology that will help reduce the risk of bushfires, a project, the PM outlined as being in line with the Royal Commission findings into last year's Victorian bushfire disaster.
Check out the event photos in the Computerworld slideshow
Bushfires are also the focus for Western Australia, with $2.8 million going towards bushfire protection technology projects.
Chronic Disease Management systems and telehealth services for the Hunter New England health area will see $5 million spent on monitoring, education and support services, as well as increasing the network capacity to isolated sites.
And in Tasmania, $4.9 will go towards the Connected — Any Student, Any School project, with NBN towns of Scottsdale and Smithtown the first to see short-term benefits of the project.
A further $4 million in funding will go towards the CDM-Net e-health project across the states.
“It will assist health practitioners, hospitals, and allied health workers to develop and manage a chronic disease care plan for patients," he said. "This project will be led by Barwon Health in Victoria and is very well supported nationally, including by the key partner of Queensland Health.”
The Prime Minister, who the evening before helped celebrated the birthday of former Labor PM, Bob Hawke, the evening before, opened the forum with some light commentary.
“I hope today's forum is a little more sedate than Bob's bash. Being a bunch of IT geeks I know its going to be a more sober gathering.”
Joking aside, Rudd’s address focused on several aspects of the NBN deployment, notably the competitive advantage the network is expected to give Australian in the global economy and the potential benefits in combating climate change.
“It is critical if the Australia is to compete successfully in global economy,” he said. “High-speed broadband is at the heart of building a stronger, better Australia. The reality is Australia’s current broadband infrastructure is not up to scratch.”
Prime Minister Rudd cited studies which showed the average Internet speed in Australia is 40 times slower than the current world leader, Japan, and Australia ranked in the bottom half of OECD countries for broadband takeup.
“We have seen a series of failed promises for better broadband,” he said. “It's time to stop the rot, it’s time to make a difference. That's what we are doing.
Rudd also praised the efforts of NBN Co chair, Mike Quigley, who also spoke at the event.
“Delivering the NBN is a massive national task and we are delighted to have somebody like Mike Quigley, with his experience, leading the NBN. History teaches us the need for national leadership on major national infrastructure.”
Rudd said the NBN would deliver broadband speeds up to 50 times faster than most people use today and would have implications for health, education, transport.
“It is also about how we tackle climate change,” he said, adding the network will enable technologies such as telepresence and has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas in Australia by 5 per cent.
Rudd also cited studies that show consumer awareness regarding energy consumption, is also linked to the awareness of greenhouse gas reduction. Technology such as smart grids, he said, would lead to a self-aware energy network that would enable greater energy efficiency, reduced emissions and better utilisation of renewable energy sources such as solar.
“What excites me about broadband are the applications none of us have thoght of yet, he said.
Job creation was also on the agenda. At its peak, the NBN rollout will support 37,000 jobs, Rudd said, and the network itself is expected to generate additional economic activity worth $37 billion over the life of project.
“The challenge at this forum is to help map out the applications, services and business models which will thrive in this new high-speed broadband environment in Australia,” he told delegates. “It is to ask the question: 'What is possible?', to identify the next steps to maximise the growth of Australia’s digital economy, and specifically, to identify what measures need to be undertaken by governments, business and community participants, and how we make sure that all Australians can benefit from the potential of high-speed broadband.”