Phil Ruthven Columnist

Phil is founder and chairman of IBISWorld, an international corporation providing online business information, forecasting and strategic services. He is considered one of the nation's most respected strategist and futurist on business, social and economic matters.

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The NBN cannot have a delete option

Published 20 February 2013 12:36, Updated 20 February 2013 13:27

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The NBN cannot have a delete option

It seems that businesses, individuals and households are taking the term “digital” in their stride these days, with the term “analogue” being used to describe the old technology used in telecommunications, time pieces, radios, televisions and other devices.

But just what is the digital age or economy, when did it start and what will it mean to business, households and government?

If a year needed to be put on the beginning of the digital economy, it would be about 2007, not quite six years ago. That is when broadband telecommunications (ADSL2+) began in Australia – painfully slow as it was, and still is, by the standards of advanced nations – coupled with widespread use of the internet and the progressive availability of devices such as ultra-light portable PCs, intelligent mobiles, tablets, digital/internet audio visual devices and more.

Digitalisation and broadband facilitates the use of information to interact and communicate in a globalised, high-tech economy. It is based on advanced information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure that facilitates opportunities and challenges for business and government.

The accompanying list expands on the elements and features of the digital economy.

It is an integral part of the second phase of the New Age that started in the mid-1960s. This new age – sometimes referred to as the Infotronics Age (information and electronics intensive) – superseded the Industrial Age, which had been marked by the dominance of goods in contrast to today’s dominance of services (more than 70 per cent of GDP).

It is an exciting era that promises to make us a more intelligent if not wiser society, clever and more productive in what we do, and a society in which knowledge is valued more than superstitions, myths and scuttlebutt.

ICT is clearly the utility of this age, and fast broadband will provide the turbo-charging of the second stage of this exciting age, or what we have already referred to as the “digital economy”.

The following chart shows the composition of ICT and related services in 2012. This utility represents a small 3.1 per cent of the nation’s revenue and 2.6 per cent of the nation’s employment but with enormous leverage power to our industries and more than 1.6 million businesses, plus education, knowledge, work-flexibility and convenience to our 9 million homes.

Cloud computing, a recent addition to the ICT armoury, is poised to become a game-changing factor in data storage and transmission to an extent similar to that of the PC supplanting of mainframe computers in the late 1980s.

Fast broadband and much faster expressions (super-fast and giga-speed) are not really negotiable in a modern economy. Taking the digital economy seriously means acknowledging that businesses, workers and households must all have it for many reasons including:

• production efficiency;

• the very existence of many new products;

• distribution efficiency;

• worker productivity;

• consumption capacity (at individual and household points); and

• export competitiveness (exports are more than one-fifth of GDP)

Basic broadband (less than 25 megabytes per second) won’t do the
job for long. Nearly half the nation’s wealth creation will depend on much higher speeds and volumes of data transmission and interchange. The
NBN program is not as expensive as some would have us believe and it’s really not a delete option in this day and age.

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