Lagging regions need Broadband boost

By Adam Coleman in Darwin

Current policies to encourage regions to develop and increase their productivity have failed and are having the opposite effect according to a report released yesterday at the National General Assembly of Local Government in Darwin.

Prepared for the Australian Local Government Association by National Economics, The State of the Regions Report 2007-08 has found current policies are imposing barriers that are preventing low productivity/high unemployment areas from increasing productivity.

The report highlights a lack of government action particularly in the area of high speed broadband.

“Lagging regions have poor access to quality telecommunications infrastructure, preventing efficient internet usage and, therefore, reducing the possibilities for exporting and attracting high technology firm start-ups,” the report says.

The report estimates that if “download speed differentials are not equalised”, the cost of lagging regions to the gross national product (GDP) will be $2.7 billion in 2005 prices and 30,000 jobs.

According to report co-author, National Economics professor Peter Brain, "those regions that need access to quality telecommunications communications the most – in terms of improving their relative economic performance – are the regions that have the least access to it".

“In other words the higher the income, the better the access to communications infrastructure and because the two are linked, the lower the unemployment rate, [in a region] the better the access,” he says.

ALGA President Cr Paul Bell told delegates from councils all across Australia, that the lack of quality broadband represents a major issue for local government and called for a robust investment to bring lagging regions up to speed.

“Areas we would like to work more closely with the Australian Government now are on rolling out of broadband. We’ve talked about it, we have promoted the issue, we have put it in the face of Australian Governments in the past, and we now need to make this a major issue for local government.”

According to Cr Bell, the State of the Regions report points to a future economy further constrained through the loss of capacity to develop information-based enterprises.

“In particular, broadband will have a stunning effect on the ability of regions to boost exports, as well as doing its bit for climate change by managing energy use through video-conferencing, e-health and providing education, business and entertainment on-line and giving all Australians the choice of not needing to undertake unnecessary travel.”

He says the regions that would benefit most are those most in need, particularly agricultural production regions such as South Australia’s Murray Lands.

“International standard telecommunications – particularly high speed broadband – would allow our regional business enterprises to connect with their markets. As well this technology would link our farmers to new industries and markets.”

The report looks at 64 regions and provides an insight into what is really going on across Australia’s regions. The Report is available from the ALGA website:

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