With eight years until Australia’s National Broadband Network, is delivered in full, it’s easy for businesses to put it on the backburner and not consider the impact that it will have on their operations and their markets.
The task of getting business thinking about the NBN was a key theme of the Realising our Broadband Future conference held in Sydney in December 2009.
So here are six ideas to get businesses of all sizes thinking about the NBN today:
Appoint broadband ambassadors: Find people from business and community – particularly Australian SMEs – that have built successful web-based businesses, and encourage them to get out and discuss what they have done. This could be through articles on websites or through traditional media, or by getting them to speak at organised events (such as town hall meetings – see below).
Educate at all levels: particularly school: Bring discussion of internet services into secondary schools. Get kids working with existing broadband applications and get them thinking about future applications. This is already a part of the government’s netbooks program for high school students. The younger population will be the group impacted by high speed broadband over the longest period, and hence should have as much knowledge and ability to influence development as possible.
Encourage super funds to put money into early stage VC: Many of the new services that will be enabled by the NBN will be created by tech start-ups. Unfortunately there is very little money out there to fund their development. Commercialisation Australia is providing some relief, but the private sector needs to pull its weight. Super funds have not have a great experience investing in Australian VCs, but that will not always be the case. For now however it might be necessary to provide additional incentives to get the funds to direct money to this higher-risk (but higher-reward) investment category.
Town Hall meetings: If the government is serious about getting business and the community thinking about broadband now, it is important that it take its message out into the community. This is particularly necessary in rural areas – one of the groups that is touted as gaining the greatest benefits from the NBN, but which currently has access to the least resources in terms of skilled service providers and application builders. Holding forums where people can gain information and discuss ideas will be a vital stage in accelerating service creation and adoption.
Extend R&D tax concessions: Companies engaging in approved research and development have access to tax credits to help offset the cost of their investments. Perhaps this scheme could be extended further to cover development of advanced websites and online applications? This would help offset the cost of development of new broadband-enabled services. Unfortunately the current review seems to point to it being even harder for companies to access these funds in future however.
Boost the Export Market Development Grant: Many Australian businesses that are selling into foreign markets today qualify for reimbursement of part of their marketing costs under the Government’s Export Market Developments Grant program. This scheme should be boosted and promoted to reach a greater number of companies that are spending money building websites to sell into foreign markets. A benefit could even be offered in the form of a tax offset against development costs on money made through sale of goods via the web into foreign markets.
That’s six very quick ideas to get people talking – there are plenty more out there. But if business doesn’t start thinking about how to make use of the NBN today, it is very likely to fail to capitalise on some of the economic advantages that it can deliver.