State of the regions report 2011-12

This report returns to the subject of telecommunications, last covered at length in the State of the Regions report for 2005-06. The analysis begins with a discussion of history, asking whether the present upheaval in telecommunications can be compared with its predecessors including the introduction of the telegraph, the telephone and radio. It is noticeable that those previous technological changes were complementary to investments in faster transport, whereas the current burst of innovation in telecommunications has no transport counterpart – indeed, as discussed in the report, transport speeds and costs are still threatened by the need to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the changes are complementary to – indeed integrated with – advances in data management symbolised by the growth in the power of computers and (more important) by developments in the use of computers.

The past few years have been marked by a battle of telecommunications technologies, basically various wireless technologies versus optic fibre. The battle still simmers but in NIEIR’s view it is now reasonably established that only fibre has the capacity to carry the data loads imposed by the computers now state of the art in business, including small business and home-based business. Wireless is limited in several ways, fundamentally by the availability of spectrum but also by the distances over which reliable transmission can take place. In countries with advanced telecommunications systems it will therefore remain ancillary to the fibre network, essentially restricted to those applications where mobility is a pre-requisite.

The report analyses the economic benefits to Australia’s regions from improved telecommunications infrastructure.

Benefit to client

The client, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) was able to argue there is no technical half-way house between Australia’s then existing telecommunications system and a fibre-connected system and that the lowest-cost course of action was to make the investment now. The report encouraged discussion among Australia’s governments about the economic significance and opportunities for regional development provided by world best practice telecommunications infrastructure.