Conroy prescribes NBN for retail therapy

By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski

Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has continued his hard-sell of the National Broadband Network (NBN), dropping into a designer pop-up-shop in the trendy inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick to tub thump the business as an example of how the fibre rollout can accelerate small businesses productivity and profitability.

As big retailers continue to battle ebbing consumer enthusiasm and nimble online competitors, Senator Conroy is pushing the success of hybrid businesses like designed in Brunswick – a textiles company that has started using the NBN following the suburb’s connection in August 2011.

Run by Irish-Australian duo Aisling Gallagher and Neil Hargreaves, the business designs, manufactures and markets hand-printed textiles as well as undertaking specialty design briefs and running a food publishing house.

They claim that a major operational improvement that has come from light-powered broadband has been the move away from physically mailing important work-related materials on discs to using digital data transfers. Previously, the businesses internet connection had been too slow to handle large digital files.

“Now we can upload or download them instantly,” Mr Gallagher said.

Mr Hargreaves described the NBN as “fantastic” because the business is now paying “about the same” as it was before for a much faster and more reliable service.

While many larger and medium size businesses often already have direct connections to optical cable, cost has remained a stubborn barrier to entry for smaller enterprises that can move premises more frequently to follow or capture passing trade.

Small business is a key battleground in the broadband debate because it is both electorally volatile and underpins the government’s position that the NBN will help deliver microeconomic reform that will foster greater competition in the marketplace.

Although creative industries like design, publishing and media stereotypical heavy data users, the need for speed has become a similar imperative for other service industries like medical imagery service providers and architects and builders who need to tightly control costs.

The government-built NBN is also far from the only digital innovation designed in brunswick’s physical shopfront has adopted.

The business is testing a new payment service called PayPal Here, which uses a card reader and smartphone app to process transactions and deposit money directly into the company’s PayPal account.

"Customers have been really interested in PayPal Here,” Mr Hargreaves said. “It's cheaper and more convenient for our business than using EFTPOS."

"It's great to see small businesses like designed in brunswick being able to improve their productivity, sell more and take advantage of the latest technology, thanks to the NBN,” Mr Conroy said.

Local federal member, Kelvin Thomson, encouraged other local businesses to take designed in brunswick’s lead to connect to the NBN and get the benefits of faster and more reliable broadband.

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