New report outlines post-NBN digital economy

May be still be too early to specify measurable outcomes

A new federal government paper that outlines goals for Australia’s digital economy following the roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been well received by peak industry bodies.

The paper, to be launched by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum tonight, aims to define the government’s vision of a digital economy and map out its strategy to position existing and future industries within it.

Australian Computer Society (ACS) chairman Kumar Parakala today welcomed the paper, saying it illustrates that the foundations for a strong digital economy in Australia are already in place.

"We look forward to the prioritisation of initiatives which will help to accelerate the development of this vital sector as a leading growth area for Australia," Parakala said.

"Unlike other traditional sectors of the economy, with the right kind of this area has no barriers or ceilings to its growth, and is not dependent on finite resources. However, it does require appropriate capital to be provided to help with seed funding for growth sectors within this economy. We acknowledge the existing government support in this area, and would hope to see this addressed in a more holistic way in future budgets," he said.

Opposition communications spokesman Nick Minchin says the government has not adequately developed its policy surrounding the proposed NBN and the paper underscores the scale of the challenges the proposal poses to existing industry.

"The paper seems to be more a summary of where we are currently at, rather than providing any real clarity on how the Government will actually deal with complex issues such as convergence; the areas for example where the boundaries between broadcasters, content providers and telcos are becoming increasingly blurred," Minchin said.

"A key challenge is to ensure that regulatory and legislative frameworks adequately reflect the realities of a digital society as it further evolves as these dynamics will not be as easy to manage as in the past when there were clear distinctions between sectors."

The paper, titled Australia’s Digital Economy: Future Directions, is the end result of an industry consultation process that began last September.

CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) Ian Birks says that the paper is a solid basis for more detailed policy development, but it may still be too early to specify measurable outcomes for a successful digital economy.

"At this point I’m not sure all of those metrics and goals can be clearly and easily defined. It’s a process in itself to work out what those things are," Birks said.

"That’s the next step – it will take some time, but I think industry working together with government should focus on trying to define what we think the specific measurable goals are."

He said that that the paper demonstrates that the government has listened to the ICT industry in formulating its proposal, but the success of the NBN will rely on its uptake by the public service and existing industries – a development that requires a careful and pre-emptive collaboration between policy makers and the ICT sector.

"We need to look at the digital economy as a sophisticated future capability, not just a digitisation of existing processes or a take-forward of what we know today – it’s transformative," Birks said.

"The parallel industries – whether it’s health, whether it’s energy or whether it’s transportation – those industries need to get really excited about the possibilities of what the digital economy can do for their sector."

Birks said the policy development now needs to take each of those and look at what can be done from a government perspective to create the environment under which the digital economy can flourish.

"Now is the time to be thinking about: what are the sort of applications, what are the developments we need in terms of software capability to support those future value-add services that will be available once the broadband network’s rolled out."

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