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Role and potential of the National Broadband Network

CHAIR —Welcome. The committee does not require you to give evidence under oath; however, the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We do have a written submission from you. We have done this about three times today—it has been a tremendous day’s hearing—but I do want to put on the record that committee members have commented to me what an excellent submission it is and how particularly useful it has been to the inquiry we are undertaking. So we very much thank you for that. Would you like to make some opening statements to the submission and then we will have a question and answer session.

Councillor O’Loughlin —Thank you, Madam Chair. I will leave Steve to do the technical aspects, because he has had a big part in writing it. From an elected member point of view and a community representation point of view, the city of Prospect is only 2½ kilometres north of the city of Adelaide. It has about 21,000 people and 2,500 properties. We are an inner city area that is largely a dormitory suburb and therefore very reliant on residential rates for all its bills. I am sure that as MPs most of you could understand the dynamics of that: unpleasant.

In terms of exploring ways to increase our level of commerce, we have looked at what are the key drivers and the key constraints. When we did our economic analysis, one of the things that became apparent to us was the very low level of digital uptake in the city of Prospect. We have a number of home businesses and some of those would be doing quite substantial transactions from home over the internet but identified their access as a constraint to trade. We have a number of other businesses which did not perceive that there was any advantage in being involved in using internet services. From those two extremes, we believe that it is a key plank of our economic reforms which will underwrite a growth in rate revenue through an uplift in that activity. That is what drove us towards developing a digital economy strategy. I know you have got that and you have accepted it as evidence. Thank you very much.

It is not the only plank; we are also rezoning three of our main road corridors to encourage uplift in residential and economic activity. We are working in partnership with the state government to do that. We are also investing in public realm upgrades ourselves at great expense. If you have any spare cash, we would love to see some of that, too. So, as you can see, it is not a simple answer for us to say, ‘We love the internet and we want to hook into it.’ This is very much part of an integrated growth strategy for the City of Prospect to take our place in the global economy. There is no point talking about it being a local economy any more; it is global. People who sit in home based offices are probably our most savvy global traders. When you drive down our main roads you probably do not see the most savvy; you see people who want shopfronts.

In terms of growing the economy and supporting home based businesses in ways which we otherwise would not be able to do, we want to maximise our ability to access broadband and the internet. What has arisen out of that is the strategy and a connection with the federal government to try to explore how to do that. You can see the results of that in terms of our level of sophistication not only in understanding the issues but also putting a strategy together, which was announced as the best digital economy strategy in Australia—they are not my words; they are the senator’s words—and has enabled us to be in the next round out of the rollout of the NBN. It is not because we went cap in hand to somebody and said, ‘Please’; it is because we think they are right up there with the best way to capitalise on the rollout.

That sets some context to our submission. I would be pleased to take questions on that. Perhaps if you have detailed questions on the actual submission, I will defer to my colleague here. I have just returned from a trip to Melbourne to look specifically at development along our corridors and therefore our planning uses. The rest of my council is currently on a plane. Thank you for scheduling us at this time, so that I could be here.

CHAIR —Thank you. Steven, do you want to make some opening comments.

Mr Harrison —At the risk of repeating some things, I would like to provide a little more detail. When I first started at the City of Prospect, I had to produce an economic strategy because we did not have one at that time. I engaged Professor Dick Blandey to undertake that economic analysis of Prospect, and one of the interesting things that Dick discovered in that analysis was that we had a really low uptake of broadband services in the city yet we had a demographic that traditionally, in Australia and around the world, should have been high users of broadband services. So we set about to do some research around that and to talk to our residents, to home based businesses and to businesses on our streets to try to find out why they were not using broadband services.

Some interesting things came out of that. Some were using wireless, though they complained about the quality of that wireless service. We have a lot of black spots in Prospect. We are only five kilometres from the Adelaide CBD but we have got black spots. The biggest complaint we got from residents and businesses was that they cannot use ADSL1 and ADSL2. Even though the telco was telling them that they should be able to get those services, it was unreliable and was running at really low speeds. When we looked into that more we discovered that the quality of our copper wire was just so bad and so degraded was the principal reason that they were not able to use ADSL1 or ADSL2. Even dial-up was not working in some cases. We have two primary schools that are still on dial-up services because of the quality of the copper wire connection.

We then set about creating a digital economy strategy. We wanted to prove to the federal government and NBN Co. that we wanted to be one of the first to have the rollout of the optical fibre because we had a real and present need for that fibre service.

CHAIR —Thanks very much for that. First of all, I want to go to a point that you made which is of interest to us. We have had increasing evidence on this side of it about the home based business aspect. We were talking about this earlier as well. There is not much recent data. I think 2006 was the last ABS collection of data on home based businesses. Did you actually do a hard survey? Can you give us some sort of idea of who these people are, what sorts of businesses they are running, whether they are new industries and whether they are replacing other forms? Can you give us a picture of what your home based business community is?

Councillor O’Loughlin —It is a great question, and I am afraid it will be a bit of a murky answer. Home-based businesses like to fly under the radar and they do not respond very well when the government says, ‘Can you please tell us who you are.’ They see that as an invitation to pay more tax or to be more regulated or to be told to go and work in an office that is a proper office, not the one they have in their sunroom. We very deliberately decided not to do a detailed survey of home-based businesses because we figured that we would get back a really erroneous picture. Instead we acknowledged that we had them and worked off the ABS numbers, where I think people were probably a little bit more honest because they did not feel they could be identified so easily, and also worked off the intel we had, so anecdotal evidence through applications to council or complaints from neighbours and those sorts of things. To be fair though, any complaints were more around businesses that have a lot of car traffic coming and going; they are not necessarily really internet-based businesses. The complaints were about overnight stay, bed and breakfast accommodation issues.

So we worked off the ABS numbers. We then set about saying, ‘In order to make these businesses the best that they can possibly be, how would we do that?’ We figured that a survey and identifying addresses and then sending a councillor around probably were not going to cut it. We thought that providing the best capacity for them to do what they want to do was the best way. That is another key driver for why we decided that excellent, high-capacity access to broadband across the city was about the best thing we could do. They all had access to power, water and sewers; what they did not have access to was fast, reliable, high-capacity broadband. If we had it rolled out across the city, it would not matter where they were today and it would not matter where they were tomorrow, they would always be able to plug into it. We figured that that would be a universal improvement to the efficiency and capacity of home-based businesses. So the answer is not a direct answer, but I tried to give you some context as to why we did not go down that path of who’s who in the chook house and exactly what they want.

Mr Harrison —One thing we did discover was that two out of every three businesses in our council area are home-based businesses. We do not exactly know what they all do, but the way we worked that out—this is the beauty of being a small council—is that we employed a young graduate who was looking to earn some extra cash. We sat them down in front of the Yellow Pages online—we had bought into that Sensis service—and they were able to go through and ring up every business in our council area. That identified businesses that were not on main streets, so we just assumed that if those businesses were not on a main street there was a high likelihood that they were a home-based business. It was interesting that for every three businesses, two of those were home-based businesses under that criterion.

CHAIR —What variety of businesses were they?

Mr Harrison —Everything. They have come out of the woodwork in some ways. A lot of builders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, engineers and architects, people who need high bandwidth. One of the most surprising businesses down one of our side streets works for the UN and runs UN events on a global scale. She was in desperate need of optical fibre. She has paid to put her own optical fibre in since we found her. It was a real mixed bunch. They were very small businesses, one person: consultants, marketing communications people.

CHAIR —Do you think at all levels of government there is more we can do to encourage those people out from behind that murky exterior? The UN business is a great example. In my own area, my local paper on the weekend had a story about a fellow who runs an international stock exchange from Austinmer so he can surf during the day and work on their day hours which are our night hours. There are some wonderful stories of tremendous innovation and business opportunity happening out there in our communities and we do not know the story of it. From your experience in engaging at this beginning level, almost, with that sector, what is your view on how we might be able to get them out and tell the great stories and get them better championing the supports that they need.

Councillor O’Loughlin —It is another good question. We ‘umed’ and ‘ahed’ about this, and Stephen and I had to have several drinks to settle ourselves down about what the strategy was for dealing with home based businesses. In my view, having them tell their story benefits me, but it does not benefit them. I think we are in a new era now where people can conduct global commerce from their lounge room while they are watching the telly, if they want to.

In terms of them being start-outs, that is another interesting concept. I figured that was the case as well until we met some very highly regarded consultants who had retreated from an office to home because they did not want to employ people per se. They were working Australia-wide so they were on and off planes all the time. They are in the latter third of their careers. They are pulling back rather than starting up. It seemed to me that the more we looked at it, home based businesses which needed excellent access to high speed broadband were very hard to pigeon hole in terms of their place in the business life spectrum and the type of business they were involved in—whether it was the import or export of fixed goods or services or graphics. You say, ‘Well, they weren’t importing cars.’ No, but perhaps they were involved in the automotive business in some sense. Perhaps they worked at an automotive business and did all their work at home rather than come in every day. It just became so hard to categorise.

I think we are entering an era where, as I say, you can do business from your lounge room. So how do you support a business playing field where you cannot find a post box or a shop front? In my view, and I think I have managed to convince most of the council, it should not be our starting point. Our starting point should be that we should be supporting every individual to have the capacity to trade globally if they want to. That became our starting point and that is why broadband seemed to fit that really well. Look at the equivalent in road infrastructure: instead of having people living on a lane needing to get to a bigger road, to a main road and then to a freeway, everybody could have a freeway to their front door. Everybody has equal capacity.

CHAIR —Plus there are benefits in that we perhaps do not have to build so many of those freeways to move them around as much.

Councillor O’Loughlin —That is an excellent lead-in. If you want to make a more walkable neighbourhood, if you support people being able to do global commerce from their homes—they might consider going to a smaller office in their local area that is not a corporate office—they can meet people at a cafe or a local restaurant if they wanted to. They may choose to walk there. If they drive, it might be a short drive rather than a long drive.

CHAIR —Plus, they are supporting that small local business in their own community.

Councillor O’Loughlin —Correct.

Mr NEVILLE —So you are building the local network, so to speak? Notwithstanding the fact that you have some wireless black spots, what is the availability of broadband at present? Is it ADSL or ADSL2?

Mr Harrison —We have all three. We have dial-up, ADSL1 and ADSL2. As I said previously—

Mr NEVILLE —What about the council? Are you on fibre?

Mr Harrison —The council is on fibre. When we decided that we wanted to have a crack at being a stage 1 or 2 rollout site we felt that we could not just go to the government and say, ‘We want optical fibre’ because we figured everyone else in Australia would. So we set up, through this strategy, demonstration projects. We wanted to be able to go to NBN Co. and the federal government and say: ‘We have done this. We have proved that it actually works and that there is demand now through these programs. This is what can happen if you provide the infrastructure to do it.’

To that end, the elected members at Prospect approved funding of $330,000 to put our own optical fibre in, which was a fairly huge commitment for a small council of our size. We have linked all our public assets up with optical fibre: our depot, library and civic centre. In that deal we have two hairs of fibre for $330,000 and some dark fibre. We are currently switching our telephones over to VoIP on that dark fibre so that we can reduce the costs of those internal telephone systems.

CHAIR —Have you calculated what the savings of that will be to the council?

Mr Harrison —We wish we could. It was interesting. If anything, this has forced us to do it. We discovered that nobody knew what the separation was regarding telephone calls—calls outside of council and internal calls. There was no breakdown. At the moment, we have Telstra measuring that to tell us the breakdown, the difference, so we can find out what the savings will be. We also deliberately ran the fibre bundle past two of our primary schools, when we saw the service provider’s general route for the fibre. We asked them to divert that and try to hook up the two schools that we knew were having terrible trouble trying to run their broadband services. It is only just recently that the state government has agreed to hook those two schools up to the bundle of fibre that we put in. It has been a considerable saving to the state government to have those services for the schools.

Councillor O’Loughlin —We are very happy to sell our fibre to NBN Co., by the way.

Mr NEVILLE —You say a lot of your citizenry do not work in the local government area. They work in Adelaide, presumably, do they?

Councillor O’Loughlin —Predominantly, yes.

Mr NEVILLE —What proportion works in the Prospect area?

Councillor O’Loughlin —I do not have that statistic at hand.

Mr Harrison —I could not give you an exact figure. A very small number would work in local businesses. We know that a lot of our residents work from home.

Mr NEVILLE —You do not have many government departments or government shopfronts?

Councillor O’Loughlin —No. We have the headquarters of the ABC and a collection of schools. We used to have the office for the fruit fly inspectorate in Prospect, but that has just moved—that was 20 people.

Mr NEVILLE —Every city needs one.

Councillor O’Loughlin —Exactly. Other than the ABC, we do not have a large government office.

Mr NEVILLE —Hence, your strategy is to use the broadband as a driver for community development?

Councillor O’Loughlin —Community development and economic growth, as I outlined in my introduction. Interestingly, the government does not pay any rates, so we are not terribly interested in their health. They are big enough to look after themselves. What is a driver for us is that small business growth that hopefully leads to them becoming more successful, needing more space and therefore occupying our main road corridors and taking a larger place in our economic life. Also, there is the nice idea that you may be able to build more of a neighbourhood by having people working closer, using that kind of technology. We now have people working in our hotspots. Whilst they are having a coffee they are having a meeting, and they will be using things like iPads. Who knows what is going to come out next year. They are doing commerce whilst having a coffee outside a beautiful cafe under the plane trees. Why wouldn’t you do that if you could? That is where we think our growth is going to be.

Mr NEVILLE —How do you link this to economic development? Sure, you will have broadband and that will be a great add-on for any company that wants to go there, but what is the catalyst to put these two things together?

Councillor O’Loughlin —That is also an excellent question. The pathway is not as clear as I would like it to be. If you look at the history of the large organisations that have thrived in IT—Microsoft, Bill Gates in his early days, and the Google boys, who were in the Australian today—you will see that they started with not much of anything. They probably started in a garage, or the equivalent thereof, and grew to enormous businesses. I think Google has 34,000 employees. We just do not know what will happen. It is part of the interest we have in the internet, and fibre in particular. I liken it to the introduction of copper around the 1900s. People got their phone connected. They were one step up from Morse code and they thought, ‘Wow, this is fantastic.’ All they thought they would get is voice over copper. Now look. You can draw down movies, speak to people around the world and do commerce around the world on copper. It is ageing, but the expansion in capacity and use over that 100 years has been extraordinary. People in 1900 could never have even contemplated what we are doing right now.

In my view, fibre is exactly the same. We can only see what we currently know is the capacity of fibre. We have two hairs out of one fibre cable going down through our council buildings; each one has 30,000 times the capacity of the copper that we used to have connected. So, in terms of: ‘What is the commercial rollout?’ it is undefinable. What we want to do is just to support that activity and hope it turns into a thriving activity that has all sorts of dividends and benefits. People coming and meeting their colleagues in a cafe has a very simple economic benefit that results from them working near us and not in one of these towers here. I think it just goes on from there.

Mr NEVILLE —You were talking about B&Bs possibly trying to stay out of it for fear that the tax man might get his grubby hands on them. We took evidence a few weeks ago in the City of Ballarat. They had spent $1 million deliberately to get all those sorts of people linked in to tourism, to make sure that they maximised their B&Bs. Far from letting them sit out on the sidelines, they were actively encouraging them to be part of the system and to benefit from it. It was very proactive sort of stuff. I could think of councils in my area that I would be flat out getting to spend 100 grand; $1 million was pretty gutsy stuff.

Councillor O’Loughlin —Yes, it sounds very progressive.

Mr Harrison —We have put 140 of our local small businesses through an online entrepreneurship training program, which we developed with a consultant here in Adelaide who, from our research, is one of the best in Australia. It was a 2½ day program. At first, we found it very difficult to get some of our small businesses to come along to that training program, and even the ones that did come along initially thought they were coming to learn how to put their business on eBay—that was the level of their thinking. But all 140 who did the training program have boasted to us that it was the best thing they have ever done and it has changed their thinking. It has grown their businesses—in some instances, quite considerably.

One fantastic example, which I think we can all relate to, is the local hairdresser who did the program and got so excited that he went back and continued doing work with the actual consultant. He is telling us that he is getting between 10 and 15 new clients every week, just off the internet. So he has tapped into that market of people like you who come to Adelaide and, if you are talking at a conference or an event, want to get your hair done. You look on Google to see who is the best hairdresser in Adelaide. He will come up about four or five times on the front page of Google because of the things he has been taught at that training program. Five or 10 new clients a week at $250 a pop is a lot of economic benefit, and he comes and spends that money locally in our shops and cafes and in using local services.

Mr NEVILLE —Well done.

CHAIR —Stephen?

Mr STEPHEN JONES —I do not have a question at the moment, Chair.

CHAIR —You got captured reading the internet, did you?

Mr STEPHEN JONES —I got captured reading the internet; I was looking for a hairdresser!

CHAIR —He is reading your submission.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —It is an excellent read!

Councillor O’Loughlin —It is an excellent read.

CHAIR —Jane?

Mrs PRENTICE —On Stephen’s base-note, can I just congratulate you on your comprehensive submission and, obviously, your enthusiasm. I think perhaps NBN Co. should employ you to promote the benefits of broadband.

I was more interested in this. You have currently got, I think, 200,000 residents. With your development plans, you are looking at increasing the density along key arterials. So how many more residents are you looking at?

Councillor O’Loughlin —I just have to take a zero off that number: we have 21,000 residents.

Mrs PRENTICE —Do you have 21,000?

Councillor O’Loughlin —Yes, we do. We have a wonderfully old, anachronistic local government system here, and our boundary has not changed since 1872. Some in our city are very proud of that. We have managed to crank down our growth figures for the next 30 years to exactly match our current growth. So we are very happy about how we fit into the scheme of things. However, I can tell you—having been over in Melbourne for the last three days with the council—that I would be very surprised if we did not double or triple our expectations, based on our level of comfort with the sort of built form we saw and how we can actually fit that into the appropriate locations in our area.

My simple view of this is: I would just like us to be back where we were in 1940, which was at 24,000 residents. We are actually 20 per cent below that now, and that is a result of decreasing population per household. A lot of dwelling demand in the last 15 years has been through smaller household sizes; I am sure you are aware of that. We have more dwellings than we have ever had and fewer people than we have ever had, and we need to resolve that.

I talk about broader economic agendas. We are characterised by large houses on large blocks. We simply do not have enough units. We do not have any apartments. We have some townhouses. In my view we have to offer a far greater variety of housing to have a far greater variety of people at all kinds of places in the wage spectrum to maintain our character as being a little bit eccentric, in the sense that for years we have had all sorts of everybody—and that is exactly what I love about it. So our population growth will be managed but we do hope it will be in that order of over 10 per cent in the medium term. That is just a residential driver.

The economic driver, which we think broadband is directly related to, is that we want all the ground floor activity in those corridors to be rejuvenated. The Churchill Road corridor, which you will not know, is adjacent to the train line, it has three stations on it and it is about to be electrified. Do you have electric trains in your cities? We have diesel passenger trains here; it is going to change. So we are now promoting that as a green and sustainable corridor to live in, which most people just find flabbergasting—but it will be in time. So we are encouraging green, sustainable, IT focused businesses to establish along that corridor as part of that focus. We absolutely want to nail down the start of this rollout. We want to nail our planning changes. We want to get that electrification underway. The government here is committed to that, so we know roughly when that will happen. We want to send Steve out there on the hustings to absolutely promote our ability to fulfil those agendas and bring those investors in. That is our very simple agenda.

In terms of usage of the internet I have always said to Steve that the growth is not just in commerce. I suspect that the largest demand for services over broadband will be residential. They will be very consumer driven and they will be done from the lounge room. I am not sure what is happening in your houses right now, but I have one 18-year-old son who is constantly on Facebook, unless he is doing some chores—which means he is constantly on Facebook. We will commonly sit down watching the TV, which is streamed through the current coaxial aerial kind of arrangement—pretty simple—and my son has a laptop open, my wife has a laptop open, and I am using an iPad, so we have four devices on in the room, three of them wireless to our receiver, connected to copper. Pretty soon the TV will be coming through the same connection. So we will be drawing four devices for three people, and I am sure we will be typical. We book all our overseas travel in the lounge room; I am serious when I say that that is where we do that commerce and trade. I think that the huge demand and the backbone funding for NBN will be used exactly like that.

Mrs PRENTICE —That is a lead-in to the next question, which is: have you mandated, therefore, through your town planning over recent years, putting in conduit and fibre to the premises?

Councillor O’Loughlin —We have not. This is a new initiative and every time we think it is about to start there is some other reason why it does not start. We are anxious to get it moving. With our change with the corridor zoning, we will be insisting on connection capability. We currently have a public realm upgrade on our main village arterial and in that we are currently negotiating with NBN Co. to put conduits in to get that fibre ready to those businesses so they are not pulling up expensive paving in two years time. It is a delicate negotiation. It costs money—therefore that is delicate. But that is exactly what we are doing.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —The content of this excellent document is wonderful, but I would need to verify its veracity. The reason I doubt it is that there is no photo of the mayor in it, and there is not a council publication that I ever receive that does not have a photo of the mayor in it. You found one, did you, member for Chifley?

Mr HUSIC —Yes, I did. It was a replication of your website. Is that your face? Is this spot the mayor? I thought it was excellent.

Councillor O’Loughlin —My ego is not that big that I need a large photo.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —Seriously, that is an excellent document. I think you are on board with the broader vision. The stuff in here is fantastic. What are the key steps the Commonwealth needs to take, either on its own or in partnership with the other tiers of government, to drive up utilisation and innovation, assuming rollout?

Councillor O’Loughlin —The training of local businesses has been our initial key plank in that. Steve can talk in more detail about it, but it is surprising how many local businesses do not understand that it is a powerful advertising medium, that if they get their act together they can optimise their appearance in that advertising medium and that, if they also get their act together about how to monitor and improve that, they can keep going back and making sure that they are still getting to the top of the list. It is an active environment, not a passive environment. It is not a case of using some glue and some paper and sticking a billboard up. Yet some have that approach where you do not even bother, so it has been an exercise to get them to look at the environment. We have insisted on principal members of those businesses coming to the training and not sending their 19-year-old receptionist or some other geek; they have to come themselves. They have all been absolutely impressed and empowered by the training, and they have then gone back and applied it.

I am pretty sure that, if we can continue this rollout, we will continue to get excellent feedback—and I mean excellent feedback—about the training and that word of mouth will work. We will be able to run a level 2 and a level 3 training program for these businesses. Whether we do that as a council, do it in partnership or stimulate somebody else to do it—ultimately, you would think that the private sector would pick it up—remains to be seen, but certainly the initial contact and opening peoples eyes up as to what they can achieve is a very important part of getting them to understand how they can innovate online.

The hairdresser story is amazing, and I find this a really great example—who on earth would have thought that a hairdresser would do any better out of using fibre? Yet this guy is musing about how he can capture hair care techniques and lessons and sell them online. Once you start thinking about that, who do you think he will sell to? There is no limit other than the boundaries of the planet itself. He can literally earn money from people in Turkey, Venezuela, Sweden, England and the US—it does not matter to him. He can do that from Prospect. He is probably the leading thinker out of the people we have had through, and he comes from a completely unexpected source. We just want to continue that rollout. I guess we are getting to the edge of our capacity to do that unaided, but we know that the innovation will flow from it as a result.

CHAIR —Look at Justin Bieber!

Councillor O’Loughlin —No, thanks. But I understand your point!

Mr SYMON —Again, great document—it is a good read.

Councillor O’Loughlin —Thank you.

Mr SYMON —One of the points I saw in it was your comment that the uptake and use of digital based technologies by residents and businesses in Prospect is relatively poor. I have to ask first off: in comparison to whom? Is that in comparison to an adjoining council, in comparison to the city of Adelaide as a whole or in comparison to a wider piece of Australia?

Mr Harrison —I think what we were getting with that was more that, through ABS statistics, the uptake and use of broadband was very poor compared to other places.

Mr SYMON —So with digital based technologies, you are actually talking of broadband itself rather than—

Mr Harrison —Broadband itself, yes.

Mr SYMON —Okay—so not just usage of but also availability of and connection to.

Mr Harrison —Correct.

Mr SYMON —I note that it then goes on about the mix of residents you have: highly educated, high disposable incomes, a sought after lifestyle. Have you found a reason from that as to why there is a reticence? Is it just a lack of opportunity of connection? Are people saying to you as a council, ‘We want the connection, but it’s so bad or it’s not available, so we’re missing out?’ Is that the case?

Mr Harrison —That is the case. They were telling us that they could not access ADSL 1 or 2 even though their telco was telling them that they sit within the circle from the exchange and that they should be able to get ADSL 1 or 2. They were continually telling us that it was dropping out or that it just would not run at speeds that were acceptable. Someone had gone back to dial-up because that was the more secure service and then, when we looked into that more, we discovered that the ageing copper wire network was causing the problem, even to the following extent. About six months ago I was talking to a technician who is a linesman. He was looking at some copper wire in the ground, and we did not know why he was there. He was doing something to it, and I asked him what the story was with the copper wire in that particular area. He said to me, ‘Some of your residents are lucky they’re getting telephone calls, let alone running broadband services over copper wire.’

Mr SYMON —That is common to many suburban areas.

Mr Harrison —Yes.

Mr SYMON —In your submission you mention a local e-paper put out by the council on a daily basis. Have you extended that to other council services, delivery to customers—or ratepayers, I suppose, in this case? Are you doing things online that you used to have to do on paper, and is it saving the council money so far?

Mr Harrison —The e-paper has been a great success story. It has expanded to four other councils that I know of in South Australia. It is a collaboration with a publisher here in Adelaide who we approached. We approached three different publishers about the idea, about how we could get our services and information out to the community quicker rather than just a quarterly magazine. He came up with the idea. He said, ‘Why don’t you take my online newspaper, which I produce for about 22,000 people in South Australia, and we will brand that so they get the local, international, state and interstate news and you can have a page of that every day.’ You can incorporate—

CHAIR —So that is actually an online newspaper; it is not an email newsletter?

Mr Harrison —It is an email newspaper. So it does go—

CHAIR —Right. So it is sent by email but it is in a newspaper format.

Mr Harrison —Correct. It is an interactive newspaper format. We use video. The mayor often features in the e-newspaper. It is a wonderful medium. It is not unusual, after a monthly council meeting, for me to sit down with the mayor and a $300 camera and video the mayor doing a summary of what came out of the council meeting or any major issues that the community needs to be aware of, and we can upload that onto the newspaper the next day. We also upload it onto our online web presence for council. We initially went out to 3,000 residents with an invitation: ‘If you are prepared to give us your email address and accept this e-newspaper, we will give you a free cup of coffee.’ We did a deal with a local coffee house. Of those 3,000 residents, we had just over 800 initially registered. We thought that was a fantastic outcome. We have about 1,200 now registered to receive them and we still have not gone out to our whole database of residents. It was an interesting way to collect a database of emails for our customers, because we are moving down that path where eventually we want to be able to send rate notices out by email. Essentially, by agreeing to accept the newspaper they have agreed to accept all communications in the future from council via email. I have to admit we have been surprised by the enthusiasm of our local residents to receive communications from council by email. That outcome has been quite exciting.

Mr SYMON —It is a great example. I am surprised that more councils have not done that. It is the first one I have heard of. Many other service providers do that. I have not heard of any councils doing that up until now.

CHAIR —Mr Harrison, in the couple of minutes left, I want to take us back to page 7 or your submission, where you talk about digital vibrancy in the community and you outline our new citizens and what their lifestyles will include. I love the descriptions of ‘digital warriors’, ‘digital entrepreneurs’ and ‘digital professionals’.  I picture whole new tribes of people wandering the streets of your community. It captures really well getting people enthusiastic about what it is. We had good evidence in Ballarat from one of the leaders in that town, who had previously been an ISP provider, who said you have to talk to people about what they want to do, not about the technology. At the end of the day, if you keep talking technology, you will keep drowning people in detail. For me, classically, I love being mobile; but do not explain how the car works, because you will lose me completely. It is a similar sort of thing. I you have captured in a really effective way the outcomes that this transformation can provide for communities. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us what you are doing with that. It is described there; how do you translate that into something you are communicating to your community?

Mr Harrison —We certainly do promote it all the time through our online newspaper, through our community magazine and through any sort of information that goes out. We try to reinforce continually the need for our community to be aware of the future that is coming very fast and could overtake them at any time if they do not have their wits about them, so we have built all these different styles into our own policy within council. We have staff that are prepared to work from home. I would be guessing at the moment, but I would say that about 20 per cent of our staff take up that opportunity on a fairly regular basis now. I am quite comfortable with my staff working from home. They shoot me an email the night before to say, ‘I’m not coming in tomorrow; can I work from home?’ We communicate by email for the rest of the day, and it seems to work really well.

Some of these are aspects of what the future workforce will look like, and we are certainly trying to lead by example with what we do in our council. We do try to communicate to our community on a continual basis that these are the sorts of things they will be able to do with broadband services as they get faster and can carry bigger capacities of data almost instantly. We see it every day. It is great, as the mayor mentioned previously, to go into some of our coffee shops or down to our library, where we have a hotspot wireless set up. At any time in the day, even before the library is open, it is not unusual to see people sitting in side streets around our library with laptops up on their steering wheels checking their emails and their diaries for the day to come. Often they will then pop into the coffee shop over the road and have a coffee while they are planning their day out. We are just trying to reinforce it continually by the communications we send out and to lead by example.

CHAIR —That is great. Thanks for the additional reading. I think many of us will be heading back to our own councils with some of the evidence that you have given us today, so it has been very useful—thank you. Thanks for your attendance today. If you have been asked to provide additional information, please forward it to the secretary of the committee. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Once again, thank you very much for a very enlightening presentation.

Resolved (on motion by Mrs Prentice):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 4.57 pm