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NBN knockback

Friday, 30th March, 2012

By Kurtis Eichler

The decision not to include Broken Hill in the three-year rollout schedule of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been met with disappointment.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co Ltd boss Mike Quigley yesterday announced the construction of the fibre optic cable section of the $35.9 billion network will be completed in areas containing  3.5 million homes and in 1500 towns across the country.

It was described by Mr Quigley as a “major turning point” for Australia, but Broken Hill failed to make the cut.

In Broken Hill, the deputy chairman of Regional Development Australia, Darriea Turley, described it as a blow.

“RDA and the City Council have done a lot of work around the digital economy strategy,” she said.

The Far West NSW Digital Economy Strategy lays out goals to ensure online services and opportunities are used throughout the region.

It will help create a full time project officer to overlook the rollout of the NBN and prepare a plan for NBN funded education for the broader community.

“It is about the lobbying and being more strategic and I think the RDA and City Council need to think how we can escalate ourselves to the next level,” Ms Turley said. “We need to continue to lobby.”

The Royal Flying Doctor Service’s general manager of health services, Professor Jeanette Ward, said the aero-medical service was “disappointed.”

“We just saw a new picture for connecting the people in rural communities to health care that hadn’t been possible before,” Prof. Ward told the BDT.

Prof. Ward was at a briefing of the Far West NSW Digital Economy Strategy last week where she described the mood as “optimistic”.

“There was a lot of optimism in the room of how services across the district would be empowered by the NBN,” she said.

And the delay for the NBN makes it even harder after the service moved from paper to electronic filing several years ago.

Faster internet speeds were needed for the retrieval of those records, she said.

“That’s all we’ve got for the foreseeable future.”

The RFDS services 17 towns, all of which take several hours by plane to reach.

Prof. Ward said those remote communities were their biggest concern.

“We’ve got a lot of people relying on us for their health care.”

The service saw many possibilities for closing the digital “chasm,” but she said the city will power on.

“Broken Hill’s a town of great ingenuity,” Prof. Ward said. “It’s a town that finds its way through.”

Mayor Wincen Cuy said the knockback was “extremely disappointing.”

“I don’t know what we have to do to convince the powers that be that regional and rural areas should be where it is,” Mayor Cuy told the BDT.

He said Council was not going to take the decision “lying down” and would continue to make its voice heard.

“I think what we’ll be doing is trying to lobby and make enough noise as we can.”

Chairman of RDA, Bob Davis, was asked to comment but the BDT’s calls were not returned.

The construction phase for each area takes 12 months, with the entire work expected to be completed by 2021.

NBN Co, the Government-owned builder of the $35.9 billion network, is commissioned to deliver high-speed fibre cable broadband to 93 per cent of homes, schools and businesses by 2021.

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