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Role and potential of the National Broadband Network

CHAIR —Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We have a written submission from you. Would you like to make a few opening comments to the submission and then we will go to a question and answer session from the committee.

Mr Maxwell —I would like to give you a bit of background about Victor Harbor first and then perhaps Daniel can give you a bit of an overview of our submission. The City of Victor Harbor is a local government area which currently has about 14,000 permanent residents and we are expected to grow to about 18,000 by the year 2021. Around 75 per cent of our residents were born in Australia with a further 15 per cent born in English-speaking countries. We have a relatively low Indigenous population of about 0.9 per cent. Our major employers are tourism, hospitality, primary production, health and aged care, education and retail.

The area has a relatively low workforce participation rate of about 42 per cent compared to 59 per cent in South Australia, according to the 2006 census. Many of the employment opportunities are seasonal or part-time. The median household income is 30 per cent below the state average while the number of people receiving a pension or other benefit is almost 50 per cent higher than the state average. We have a close relationship with our neighbouring communities of Port Elliot, Middleton, Goolwa and Yankalilla and we service those communities as their regional centre for retail, education, law enforcement, health and other public and private services.

The residential base in Victor Harbor and across the southern Fleurieu Peninsula is increasing at between 2.5 and three per cent per annum, which places us as one of the fastest-growing councils and regions in the state. Close to 40 per cent of our properties are owned by nonresidents. Many of these properties are holiday homes with fluctuating occupation rates throughout the year. At peak summer holiday period, which is Christmas through to the end of January for us, Victor Harbor’s population is estimated to be around 25,000 and the southern Fleurieu region around 60,000 people. Our region is a major daytripper destination, being only an hour’s drive from Adelaide. Victor Harbor is a major gateway for tourists visiting Kangaroo Island.

In terms of our demographic, Victor Harbor has the highest average age, at 54.5 years, of any local government area in Australia and we will continue to hold that mantle for probably another 30 or 40 years. We anticipate major settlement in our community of communication and IT savvy baby boomers over the next 20 years. In contrast to this is the fact that our schools are also growing rapidly, with student numbers increasing and capital works development currently being undertaken at all of our school campuses. This investment in education is also reflected in a new TAFE campus that has recently been completed.

Council is expected to accommodate objectives of South Australia’s strategic plan and, more importantly, the 30-year plan for greater Adelaide, which we are captured by. What does that mean for the southern Fleurieu Peninsula? During the life of the 30-year plan it is expected that the southern Fleurieu will grow by 22,000 additional residents, 11,500 new jobs will be created, 14,500 new dwellings will be established and 120 hectares of regional employment lands will be developed.

That is a background of Victor Harbor, and I will now hand to Daniel to talk on the IT issues in our submission.

Mr Brinkworth —The City of Victor Harbor has provided a written submission to the committee which has been accepted as submission No 8 and has led to the committee holding a public hearing here today. I wish to present the committee with more detailed elements of the submission, the local issues and problems, including a possible solution through the installation of a local fibre-optic loop.

The City of Victor Harbor has been working on broadband related issues since 2004 and we led the way in the Fleurieu Peninsula with a submission for funding through the South Australian government’s Broadband Development Fund. This project was to provide a wholesale broadband solution covering both residential and rural areas using a terrestrial-based wireless DSL technology to increase coverage and to significantly reduce the last mile broadband black spot problems within Victor Harbor. After initial feedback from our application, the scope of the project was extended to include the neighbouring councils of Yankalilla, Alexandrina and Kangaroo Island. This new regional approach led to the handing over of this project to Fleurieu regional development, which has since become known as Regional Development Australia Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island, or the RDA.

The RDA has facilitated funding applications and other broadband initiatives on behalf of these regional councils. A group was formed which included consultants, representatives from both the councils and RDA. The group meets on a regular basis to develop strategies and long-term plans, identify and discuss local issues, lobby internet service providers and telecommunications companies, apply for funding and provide local project coordination. This group has posted forums, attended national conferences, visited other councils and met with the NBN and has even addressed the Minister for Communications, Senator Conroy. It was this group that applied for National Broadband Network regional backbone black spot program funding, achieving success.

Significant regional resources have been invested into the Broadband Development Fund project, including the engaging of consultants, project planning budgets, business plans, projected cash flow forecasts and even going to tender and awarding a tender in a private-public partnership. Supplementary funding program requirements have been continually altered at the federal level, necessitating continual changes to our project proposals to meet these new funding guidelines. This has been a continual threat to the project and supplementary state government funding. Both funding sources have required maintaining the interest and profitability of the private sector. Although our Broadband Development Fund project has not attracted the federal funding, a reasonable project timeframe now exists.

Our regional working group has had a lot of success as a lobbying body, which has seen an improvement in telecommunications services within the area even if we were unable to build the infrastructure we planned. Our recent commissioning of the fibre-optic backbone cable to our region, the recent NBN legislation changes and the pending NBN rollout across the nation and the standing committee’s presence here today all contribute to a positive view by the community and the potential opportunities of broadband. This interest is reflected in the people attending today. For many people the surrounding areas are considered to be a great destination for a day trip, a weekend away, summer holidays or a place to retire. Many who holiday in Victor Harbor return in later years as residents, becoming daily commuters to work commitments in Adelaide, or others take up a trade or profession within the local community. Our lifestyle has attracted strong population growth over many years, with families also seeing the opportunities we have to offer.

Many citizens who choose to retire within Victor Harbor generally move away from their friends, family and support networks to start a seachange or tree change in the local area. Retaining contact with these people is important to this lifestyle change. Telecommunications and broadband play a key role in the future of maintaining personal contacts. It is expected that on an individual level the introduction of better broadband services will assist residents, particularly retirees, to maintain contact with their family members and friends. It is expected that traditional types of communication such as voice-only telephones will be replaced with the ability to make video calls and the ability to interact with multiple groups at once, share pictures and videos all in real-time and, as prices lower, increase the amount of time spent communicating with loved ones. All of this will be made possible as the NBN rolls out locally as new technologies are released based on greater bandwidth being available.

Victor Harbor is home to many local groups, such as Victor Harbor Seniors Online which supports people with adapting to the new technologies. In addition local volunteers operate from local libraries and assist with further training. Computer literacy of the aged within the local area is growing rapidly and the enhanced technical skills amongst this part of our population will see good take-up rates of new applications and technologies when they become available. One key concern of this demographic is cost as many of these individuals are pensioners, self-funded retirees or on fixed incomes. Any rollout of new technology not only needs to cater for an increased user demand and new applications but it must be priced affordably at levels to ensure that residents are not left out of the benefits and opportunities this technology will provide.

Although Victor Harbor has a high proportion of computer literate aged citizens and the networks to assist with the support and training of these individuals, still many of these people prefer to do business in person rather than online or over the phone. Government and business within the local area needs fast, reliable, cost-effective technologies and services to service the needs of those who wish to conduct business in person or who are unable or unwilling to enhance these skills.

The provision of localised health services is important to all residents but in particular the aged, who make up a large proportion of our local population. Victor Harbor is home to a regional hospital, many supported living and aged care facilities, medical centres and organisations that allow these medical services to operate, such as testing laboratories. These health services are looking at new ways to deliver their services locally and opportunities to network more broadly. Many health services are still provided from Adelaide but access to transport for some of those aged residents is a particular issue as the public transport is lacking. The city of Victor Harbor, in conjunction with neighbouring councils and the South Australian government, operate a community transport program to assist with these medical travel requirements.

Anything that can be done to reduce the need to travel to Adelaide for medical appointments through better, faster and more reliable communications would be a significant advantage for all concerned. Discussions within the local medical sector have highlighted some positive projects they wish to undertake, including the access to medical records at the local public hospital and nursing homes. This will lead to better patient care, quicker diagnosis and the reduction of invasive tests and the provision of services within the nursing homes; provision of real-time data to specialists in Adelaide for diagnosis and second opinions and ongoing consultations during critical moments; access to medical professionals and specialists that are distant from our community; delivery of medical information such as readouts, graphs and X-rays for remote diagnostics; increased communication between their peers; opportunities to deploy personnel differently for better patient outcomes and efficiencies; improvements in the service delivery models for supporting organisations such as testing laboratories; assessment of their IT delivery methods to address issues and improve cost savings; improved online medical training and support; and better administrative work flows, allowing computer access tools to be operated from across multiple sites.

These administrative benefits should not be underestimated, as many clerical errors have led to poor patient care and even death. Administrative benefits can lead to cost savings that can be redirected to patient care. The key driver for delivering these services locally is access to broadband or other high-speed communication technologies.

Another growing area within Victor Harbor is the number of families moving to the local area seeking a country coastal lifestyle. Victor Harbor is home to a public high school, a public primary school and two private school campuses which cater for around 2,000 students in total. There is a kindergarten and several child day-care centres and the attendance at all these facilities has been steadily upwards. The broadband needs of families are different from the aged population, with stronger emphasis on communications, entertainment and educational applications. These communication and entertainment applications will revolutionise how people socialise and are entertained, but of much greater importance are the educational benefits. The primary use of broadband for students is around a robust search tool for students, communications back to the classroom and access to school resources. But if we take a step forward beyond their high school years we will see many challenges that these students face once they look for tertiary training opportunities. Although there are some opportunities to further their education locally through the Flinders Medical Centre’s rural nursing clinic and the new TAFE campus, as a small regional centre it may be some time before we are a presence for a major university.

Currently many students are faced with the prospect of either moving closer to educational institutions of choice or commuting. Both of these options have serious financial implications. Younger students generally have low on no incomes and the opportunity for assistance from government programs, parents, grandparents or a part-time job may not be available or sufficient to meet their needs. There are also social implications as they are moving away from their network of family and friends to unfamiliar surroundings, which can be a daunting experience. Moving away from home should not be the only option for pursuing higher education. Mature age students need to be encouraged to have access to multiple choices for securing their education and training. Often such students try to maintain employment or even raise families while studying. They need convenient, accessible education opportunities, particularly those provided by broadband which negates the need for travelling and may assist with their local lifestyle. As educational institutions offer more and more courses online, these can be accessed anywhere with a broadband connection. This will allow course material to be received and assignments handed up without visiting a campus and will provide a better communication tool between the student and lecturer. Lectures may also be video-streamed for access from home, which will also enhance their remote educational experience. This would also reduce or eliminate the need for students to travel to Adelaide on a regular basis or live out of home. The time a students is required to be on-site may be reduced to one day a week, which is a significant cost saving and time saving. This will also have local social impacts, enabling their local social networks to be retained and may be reflected in higher retention rates of young people within the local area.

Local educational institutions also wish to capitalise upon broadband and overcome the distance issues through allowing student access to programs they are unable to provide at a local level. Students can use broadband to improve after-hours access to school facilities by providing access to their student materials through contact methods such as email from home. Other administrative or collaborative improvements can also be achieved through the integration of networks and the sharing of IT resources at the local level.

CHAIR —You are going to use all your time up in presenting. Do you want to summarise the end part? We have got a lot of material there that we are very keen to ask you some questions on. I think we have got most of it in the written submission anyway.

Mr Brinkworth —I can stop now if you like.

CHAIR —You would know the broad points you were going to cover. Just highlight the additional points. You have done health and education and lifestyle issues.

Mr Brinkworth —Basically what I was going to lead into was how we are grateful that the fibre-optic backbone has been introduced to the local community but there is a bit of a shortfall there at the moment between what that provides and where it connects to the local telecommunications network, which consists of copper cables.

Mr NEVILLE —You have got a very good map here and I would like you to take the committee through what you have got and what you propose.

CHAIR —I do not disagree and I think we will come to that, but I would point out that our terms of reference are not the infrastructure rollout. While I am happy to cover that, I think we should do that pretty quickly.

Mr NEVILLE —My point is, Madam Chair, that that would probably cover our relationship with health and aged care and education and so on. If we understand where it is coming from, it will inform us better.

CHAIR —Could you explain the map and what you hope to achieve in terms of service delivery from that component?

Mr NEVILLE —It is the second last page of the submission.

Mr Brinkworth —The first step we undertook was to look at the digital regions initiative project, which is looking at emergency services, health and education within the local area, and how we would provide that. Speaking to these people, they had some fabulous ideas but it all came down to that they could not deliver them because of the way the telecommunications are within the local area. So we mapped all the locations that could actually hook into this and developed the map.

CHAIR —The emergency service points and so forth.

Mr Brinkworth —Yes. We have included more than emergency services, health and education—

Mr NEVILLE —This was originally coloured by the looks of it and ours are in black and white. Do you have a coloured one?

Mr Brinkworth —We have got coloured copies if you would like.

CHAIR —Those who have got a colour printer in their office have got a colour map.

Mr NEVILLE —I am a very poor country member. I take it all back. It does make it a lot clearer, but I would still like to know how it all hangs together.

Mr Brinkworth —We did section it down into different colours. CFS, which is number 9 on the list, if they were not interested we could take that off the list and know that we needed 20 kilometres of cable compared to 25 or something like that, so that we could cost the project up a bit better. It is all about delivering services to these groups and individuals.

CHAIR —This is a loop to connect all of those services together so that they can develop a range of services specific to them.

Mr Brinkworth —That is correct. It remains that bottleneck we currently have around the Telstra copper cable locally.

CHAIR —You are saying that is an interim to the fibre to the home program as it rolls out over the next nine years.

Mr Brinkworth —I think there could be quite a bit of an overlap where a lot of this could be used like a local backbone to look at rollout of fibre to the home. I have not run that past any engineers or anything like that but it is a very strong possibility that that could happen.

Mr NEVILLE —Have you discussed this with NBN yet ?

Mr Brinkworth —I have run it past them but I have not had much feedback.

Mr NEVILLE —Where is a bit of the loop you want completed?

Mr Brinkworth —It is all a bit of a pick and mix. Letter G. on the map, which goes around the rural areas, is more about redundancy, so things like that could be removed. It also takes into account a lot of the commercial areas and getting those sorts of places involved as well.

Mr NEVILLE —That is an industrial estate on the extreme right, is it, the 33?

Mr Brinkworth —Yes.

Mr NEVILLE —And most of the estate would be within striking distance of fibre.

Mr Brinkworth —That is correct.

Mr HUSIC —Would it be overhead or underground?

Mr Brinkworth —I have done a few costings based on underground cabling. One of the goals of the NBN is to look at underground cabling.

Mr HUSIC —I saw an $800,000 figure in the submission. Is that on an underground basis or overhead option?

Mr Brinkworth —That figure is based on an industry figure which was given to me based on the number of connections, the number of roads to go under, the distance it took and a few things like that.

Mr NEVILLE —In those yellow areas have you mandated as the council that fibre is to be laid as part of the development?

Mr Maxwell —That is something we would deal with through the development assessment process.

Mr NEVILLE —You say you are going to do this in, what, five years.

Mr Maxwell —The very large block on the corner of Welsh Road and Adelaide Road, I believe that the development plan does provide for fibre-optic into that particular area. The other areas that are identified on the map at this stage have not been rezoned to residential purposes; they are future opportunities.

Mr NEVILLE —It gives us a bit of local colour, doesn’t it, until we get a chance to understand it.

CHAIR —Thanks for that. Was there anything you wanted to add, Daniel, before we finish the presentation component?

Mr Brinkworth —I think most of it is covered here.

Mr Maxwell —The key point of the proposal which Daniel has put together is that there is potential for a simple loop through Victor Harbor which captures the main potential users: your hospitals, medical facilities, emergency services and education institutions, and primary industrial and retail areas.

CHAIR —Would you expect that that then would enable some of the things you were talking about in terms of the medical connections between hospitals, GPs and so forth? Would that actually facilitate that process, or is that a bit further down the track again?

Mr Brinkworth —I think there are two parts. One is around having that interest there that will take up the service and encouraging that and making sure that happens. The other is around the fibre loop. I am not exactly sure what is the cart and what is the horse in this perspective. We have discussed a lot of these things locally and they do have a lot of local support and a lot of local interest.

Mr NEVILLE —Are most of the doctors on that loop?

Mr Brinkworth —Yes, that is correct. Most of the medical institutions are within the same sort of radius.

CHAIR —The whole country wants fibre to the premises. Everywhere we go everyone is saying us next, which is encouraging. It would appear to me that some of the issue for you is what you have already got. Could you describe to us what people are relying on at this point of time for any sort of broadband connection?

Mr Brinkworth —It is typical phone-based ADSL services and things like that.

CHAIR —Would you have ADSL to most of your residential properties?

Mr Brinkworth —There are a lot of RIMs around the place, which is basically pair gain and things like that. It is quite random. The person across the street may not be able to get it and the person on the other side may be able to get ADSL. I am not exactly sure what the hit ratio is but there are a lot of black spots within the local town. One thing I do not think the map actually does show is the extent of the town. This is more around the local CBD area, and it extends probably just as far that way as well and a lot of the rural areas as well, which also have a lot of telecommunications shortfalls out that way.

CHAIR —I might go to some of the broader issues. There is a joint standing committee that is looking at the infrastructure rollout, so I would encourage you to also raise the actual infrastructure issue with them. Our task is to look at what the services are that people want to run as it rolls out. You have got some really solid evidence there around the importance of health services and education services. You have obviously also got both an itinerant and a retired population base here, and one of the things that has been raised with us consistently is, as you described, the retiring baby-boomer generation who are much more savvy with technology and will have those expectations. What feedback are you getting from people in the community on what they are wanting to do, how they are wanting to stay connected, what problems they may be having with that already?

Mr Maxwell —A lot of metropolitan people purchase holiday homes in Victor Harbor with a view to retiring or semi-retiring here later in their careers. A lot of those people are professional or semiprofessional. You may have accountants, counselling services and those sorts of things that people have been engaged in in Adelaide and are looking to be able to continue those sorts of services online at their home, as a home-based industry. The home industry base is very difficult for council to get a handle on how big it is—

CHAIR —I have to say it is a big issue. We heard from Tea Tree Gully Council yesterday and councils in other states we visited where home-based businesses are clearly a burgeoning component of local economies but it is not very well recorded or counted anywhere. You have got a similar experience here?

Mr Maxwell —We have a similar experience here. There are a number of reasons for that. It is convenient for people to work from home now. It is also very expensive in Victor Harbor to find business premises. Our rental rates in Victor Harbor are quite high so people do look for that opportunity to work from home if they can, if they are in the finance sector, accountancy sector or doing home bookkeeping and those sorts of things. There are a whole range of those sorts of activities that we know are going on in private residences but we do not really know to what extent.

CHAIR —Are they the people you are hearing from about the black spots and things like that? Are those things also being raised with council by these people?

Mr Maxwell —I would have to say they have not knocked the door down telling us about problems, but we do have feedback from time to time. As Daniel said, it is a bit hit and miss around the town as to how reliable the services are. But you would expect in a reasonably large regional city that you would not have those sorts of black spots, and that is what we would like to see overcome.

CHAIR —We have been to suburbs of major cities where that is a problem. It is interesting. I might just go to my deputy chair for a couple of questions.

Mr NEVILLE —I was somewhat interested in your take on tourism and how in the season it boosts your population by about 7,000 or 8,000 people. I would be interested to know what ambitions you have for high speed broadband or fibre, in particular, in connecting and making that tourism aspect work for you. I add to those remarks our experience in Ballarat, where the city council, albeit three times or even four times larger than your area, has spent $1 million on its website, recognising that, the more you can hang that tourism experience together as a total experience and entity, the more likely you are to hold people for tourism in your area. Have you any plans along those lines? What have you done thus far in e-tourism?

Mr Brinkworth —Our tourism officer Mark Przibilla handles a lot of that sort of stuff. There is a collaborative approach incorporating a lot of—

Mr NEVILLE —I do not mean so much that level. What have you as a council, through your tourist officer, done by way of e-tourism by connecting up your hotels, motels, caravan parks, B&Bs and so on? Do you have a totally comprehensive picture electronically?

Mr Brinkworth —Through our visitor information centre we have a website which has significant linkages to accommodation providers in the town, restaurants and those sorts of tourist facilities. So there is a structure there. It is probably a structure that could be enhanced significantly but it works with the resources we have got at the present time.

Mr NEVILLE —Do you have any ambitions within high speed broadband to enhance that?

Mr Brinkworth —To be honest, we have not really explored that at this point in time. I am sure there are opportunities for us to enhance—

Mr NEVILLE —With great respect—and this is not being critical—a lot of your submission is motherhood and a generality of what you would like to do. As a committee, our brief from the minister is to get to the particularities of what broadband is going to do for regional and other areas in Australia. We just want to get from you a taste of how you see that happening. Let us move on to health. You mentioned cardiovascular connections and so on. Is that being done at present, albeit at lower speeds?

Mr Brinkworth —I am pretty sure that under the Digital Regions Initiative there was a funding project for that. I am not exactly sure what it entails, though. I would need to look that one up.

Mr NEVILLE —You have only the one hospital?

Mr Brinkworth —We have one hospital.

Mr NEVILLE —You do not have a private hospital as well?

Mr Brinkworth —No.

Mr NEVILLE —So you are not aware of to what extent these health services are linked back to Adelaide for things like cardiovascular, neurosurgery and that sort of stuff?

Mr Brinkworth —No, I am not sure what the current take-up of this is. It is one of those things that they brought up, so I am guessing that it was not available at the time I spoke to them.

Mr NEVILLE —Do you have a planning schedule or ideas of how you would like to work that in the high-speed environment?

Mr Brinkworth —I do not personally; at the hospital they might have a plan or something like that. Basically the way we investigated this was that we invited everyone around and had individual chats and things like that, and these are the sorts of issues they brought up that they wanted to achieve. I am not sure where it fitted in the short term or long term or what their current methods of providing this are. I did not get into that level of detail because, once we worked out that we could not deliver it, we sort of all went our separate ways.

Mr NEVILLE —I will finish on this note: with your broadband, do you have any fibre connections at all at this stage through private lines or anything of that nature?

Mr Brinkworth —I am not 100 per cent sure what is out there. I am not sure what the new TAFE college that came in has done as part of those new premises or the high school or things like that, but when I spoke to these people there was nothing available to them at that point in time. That was probably 12 or 18 months ago.

Mr Maxwell —Can I just add some comments in relation to the medical question. Flinders University have a rural clinical school here in Victor Harbor which is attached to the hospital. They are doing a lot of training and so forth via the internet or connection to Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide, so there is a capability there at the moment, and there is a service being provided—some training and assistance to doctors—over that system. I do not know the technical details of that particular linkage, but it is happening.

Mr NEVILLE —Just one more question: who do you see in the Victor Harbor council area as being the driver? As broadband gets closer and as intervention will be necessary with the NBN and so on, who do you see in the community? Is it the council? Is it the development board? Who is it? Who do you see as being the driver of high-speed internet connection to this community?

Mr Maxwell —I see that we would be approaching this on a regional basis. We have to work collaboratively with our neighbouring councils, so I would see it being the Alexandrina, Yankalilla and Victor Harbor councils.

Mr NEVILLE —Do you have a coordinating body within those councils—a secretariat or something?

Mr Maxwell —The councils do have a joint working party at the moment, and that also involves Regional Development Australia.

Mr NEVILLE —With an executive officer?

Mr Maxwell —No, it has not established that formally.

Mr NEVILLE —No, the point I am trying to make to you is: can you give the committee any idea who is going to be the driver of NBN here?

CHAIR —What we are getting at is not what exists but what you think would be useful to exist, so we can get back to government and say, ‘If you want—

Mr NEVILLE —And who is going to drive it; who is going to make it happen here?

Mr Maxwell —I think that ultimately Regional Development Australia will drive it, and the executive officer of that organisation that services our area will be the executive officer and the driving force.

Mr NEVILLE —I see. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thanks for that. We want to go back and tell the minister where best to position somebody in order to best support councils like yours without taking the stuff up and driving it.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —Probably following on from Paul, I can see that the NBN will have enormous benefits when fully rolled out to a region like this, although in terms of your bid for getting an early rollout of a loop around the CBD I see some challenges. Maybe you can answer those. You have 40 per cent of premises owned by non-residents, so I am assuming that a significant proportion of those residents are not going to have either a phone or a broadband service. I could be wrong on that; maybe you can answer that. Secondly, do you have any capacity to quantify the demand in some of those areas that you are talking about?

Mr Brinkworth —I guess my focus in what I have presented there in the way of a local loop was purely around business, commercial, government, education, health and emergency services and not home user provision and getting that out—

Mr STEPHEN JONES —I agree that the NBN is of great benefit for those businesses but, ultimately, those businesses do not exist to consume communications services. They exist to sell things or services to either residents or tourists in the region. So how is the NBN going to assist them in meeting their end purpose? Can we quantify that demand?

Mr Brinkworth —I am not sure what that take-up would be. I think it is a financial decision they make. I do know that, even though a lot of the holiday homes down here are not used on a regular basis, they have other services like pay TV et cetera still connected to them 24/7, even though they are used for only a few weeks a year. Other houses, even though they are not used by the occupant, are rented out throughout the year as well. There are a lot of different types of holiday homes down here, ranging from luxury to your shack type of arrangement, and I am not exactly sure how it may fit in with their marketing that they might offer these sorts of services. I do not really have an answer for you in terms of the take-up rate for those homes that are not used all that often.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —May I suggest that maybe that is something for you and the council to think about. The NBN will be rolled out ultimately to this region and, we hope, to every other region around the country. Somebody will have to make money out of buying wholesale and selling retail. For them to do that there has to be a product or a demand. I suspect that, in a region like this, it will be more your day tourists from your CBD area than your permanent residents, so you have to have a business model that is attractive to those day tourists and on which the local residents can piggyback. I am interested to hear whether you have done some thinking in that area.

Mr Maxwell —I think the loop that Daniel has looked at tends to focus more on the permanent residential areas in Victor Harbor rather than on the tourist areas. Hayborough, which is out to the east, is one of the primary holiday areas, with the megamillion-dollar seafront properties. We have not designed the system to specifically service that area, which is a large part of the 40 per cent of non-resident ratepayers, or Encounter Bay, which is down this way and which is to a large extent part of that 40 per cent of holiday homes. The loop we have looked at concentrates more on the permanent residents of Victor Harbor and the businesses, but, more importantly, it encapsulates those education, medical and local government services that we talked about before.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —Has the council done any surveys on the proportion of homes that have an existing broadband or internet connection?

Mr Brinkworth —I believe a lot of that was done originally in 2004, when we looked at putting out broadband services and addressing those issues. I do not think anything has been done since.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —It might be a useful tool in addressing that demand issue.

Mr Brinkworth —Yes.

Mrs PRENTICE —What services does the city provide or what operations does it undertake that could be done more efficiently if you had broadband? For example, do you read the water meters?

Mr Brinkworth —Back in 2004 or 2006, because there was no local offering of broadband or communications technologies, we went out on our own and built our own network to link all our sites. That has led to a centralised phone system, so we can now transfer phones between the organisation, and the computer network has also allowed our mobile force to work from any of our sites and things like that. So, internally, it has had some huge benefits and we expect that those sorts of things may be taken up through this fibre optic loop, or something like that, around the administrative side of their business and improving those efficiencies.

Mr Maxwell —Council does not read water meters or anything of that nature. We have about five or six distinct locations in town where council has services. The linkage of those six sites has increased our operational efficiency and we would expect that that would be passed on as an efficiency to the community as well.

Mrs PRENTICE —Do you have any outreach services to the aged or the seniors in your community?

Mr Maxwell —We do provide a number of community services programs through the council assisting the aged, those with disability, the transport disadvantaged and families that are of a dysfunctional nature. So there is a range of those sorts of services, which we provide not only in our own right as a council but jointly with Alexandrina and Yankalilla councils.

CHAIR —The reason we are interested in that is that there is some potential for the expansion of those service deliveries if there is broadband to the home. For example, someone who is monitoring the elderly can perhaps use video connection to people and so forth rather than having to physically do a visit all the time. Have you had a look at what new delivery models you might be able to develop once those facilities are in place?

Mr Maxwell —Probably that sort of facility is less beneficial to the council than to the Southern Fleurieu Health Service. The Southern Fleurieu Heath Service provides a huge service to the elderly—home care and home support services—and I would think that technologies would advantage them significantly.

CHAIR —I am just going to go to the other end of the table to Mr Husic.

Mr HUSIC —Firstly, Mr Maxwell and Mr Brinkworth, I want to commend you on the submission. It is clear that you are trying to think of all the ways to maximise the benefit of the NBN and improved network connections within the city. I want to ask two particular questions. One is: given the amount of work that you have done to consider the benefits, have you been able to calculate what the economic or productivity benefits would be for the city? Maybe you have worked with RDA to try to quantify that. Second, would improved communications enable you to retain more talent, particularly in terms of young people, and prevent urban drift? Would it also be a magnet to attract people and professionals to the area to add to the skills base of the city? Have you done any work to calculate that?

Mr Maxwell —We have probably focused more on the expansion of service delivery and the social benefits of the network. As you would understand, we are focused heavily on medical and educational opportunities, more so than going out and doing any economic modelling on what the potential is for business, for instance.

Mr HUSIC —I certainly appreciate that it is a lot more involved process to try to do that, but I am very interested in finding out, particularly from regional Australia, what you believe the economic benefits would be. Obviously this is something we can pursue with government as well.

Mr Maxwell —It is certainly an area we can do some more work on. With regard to retaining talent in the community, I think the opportunity for our youth to pursue tertiary education from our area is critical. We have a significant leakage of young people out of our community to Adelaide. Unfortunately, once they get to Adelaide and do their tertiary qualifications, they get involved in new social networks, they find employment and they do not return. A big problem we face in Victor Harbor is that the average age of our workforce would be well over the mid-40s I would think. We are just not retaining those youths in our community. Technology would open up the opportunities for them to study here and hopefully stay here.

Mr SYMON —Daniel, I think this question is probably to you. With the microwave communication network that was set up for the council in 2004, you mentioned cost savings. Can you quantify those in any way?

Mr Brinkworth —Basically we had a lot of hardware scattered around the place in our locations. We were able to remove those and start consolidating those. There were cost savings there in both the purchase and the maintenance and replacement of them. We were able to get rid of a lot of subscription services and phone lines around the place and they are now all centralised. Support costs are also reduced. We can do a lot more support here from the office rather than remotely and also getting staff up and running in a lot quicker time frames and things around those sorts of benefits. There are quite a lot of significant cost savings to be had through that project.

Mr SYMON —With a full fibre rollout under the NBN, would that extend to more council services or are you already covering all the services you need to?

Mr Brinkworth —We cover most of the things we need to provide. For us, because it was looked at all those years ago, we were looking to move to the next generation, which might be rolling out our own fibre, it might be leveraging the NBN and what that has to offer. We have not got a project underway but we are looking at that next step we need to take when this equipment becomes a lot older.

Mr SYMON —Do you have any council depots or outlying offices outside of the city itself?

Mr Brinkworth —They are nice and close. They are all in on that map we provided, all within a few kilometres of each other.

Mr SYMON —We were talking earlier about the local fibre loop that you would like to install ahead of the NBN rollout. How much in-ground conduit has already been put in by the council?

Mr Brinkworth —We have got only a little bit around the place. It may be 500 or 600 metres or so around the town. Some of the locations they are in are not really the best. It is something that always comes up whenever we look at undergrounding services and things like that, which is a project which seems to come round every two years, and looking at leveraging that as well. I know that with the NBN backbone rollout they ran a whole lot of cable around the place as well, particularly along what is referred to as N on that diagram where they came in from town. There is a bit there coming in as well, and along K in that diagram. The NBN has rolled out a lot of that sort of stuff as well.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —Is it backhaul cable?

Mr Brinkworth —That is correct.

Mr SYMON —One last question: I think I read in your submission that when you are doing, let us say, local municipal works if you are digging up pavements et cetera you are putting in that capacity for fibre to be put in later on. Is that a general sort of thing?

Mr Brinkworth —It does not happen in all cases but where we think it is relevant that is something we try and achieve. Our biggest one is around the foreshore area where we underground a whole lot of services and we were able to do it at that point in time. We have done some around the road here and heading towards the police station. It has been quite limited. We have not done a lot of that sort of work around the place of late.

Mr HUSIC —How is the bulk of telecommunication telephony delivered? Is it overhead of underground?

Mr Brinkworth —In the residential areas that have been installed maybe in the last 10 or 15 years they are underground. But everything else on the major corridors is overhead.

Mr Maxwell —Can I make a comment with regard to the location of council services. As I have stressed before, we are looking at a broader regional issue here. We do work cooperatively with our neighbouring councils. We are looking at the IT opportunities for our council in linkages with Alexandrina, Yankalilla and Kangaroo Island. We all have limited capacity and we need to look at efficiencies, speeds and so forth. But we will improve our businesses—council is a business. We have explored to some extent the opportunity of linkages between the councils, having backup arrangements for our records et cetera as each other’s sites and those sorts of things. So we do not see the Victor Harbor solution necessarily being just connecting our depot and our visitor information centre; it is about looking beyond that.

Mr SYMON —I take it there would be some cost savings in working with other councils, from the back end especially. If you have got a data centre that is producing rate notices, for instance, I suppose at the moment each council does that separately.

Mr Maxwell —At the moment we probably all outsource it to a company in Adelaide.

Mr SYMON —It is a reason to bring it back locally, then.

Mr Maxwell —Exactly.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for that. It has been really important to us. One thing we want to do in addressing the criteria that have been given to us about utilising the NBN is to make sure we hear the voices of regional councils. We really appreciate the work you put into the submission and the background and history to what has got you here at this point in time. It is very useful to us and we very much appreciate it.

Thank you for your attendance here today. If you have been asked to provide any additional information, would you please forward it to the secretary. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Your evidence has been very valuable to us. Thank you very much for your time today.

[10.56 am]