Australia needed to develop into a network of digitally advanced “smart communities” to secure its economic future, said a report released by an alliance of regional councils, local governments and development agencies.
“Today’s regions and cities need to start preparing for the development of delivering tomorrow’s services. Many are developing smart digital initiatives that are the building blocks of future immersive digital services,” said Michael Whereat, president of the Broadband Today Alliance.
The Smart Communities white paper gave councils and governments a blueprint to update their communities to the digital economy.
Smart communities required better infrastructure such as affordable access to fixed line, wireless and mobile broadband services and data centres. The report called for regulation and planning of digital infrastructure such as a network of fibre-optic cable and mobile towers to give regional citizens “anywhere access” to digital services and provide local businesses with access to the global economy.
“It’s not just for regional Australia but it’s those areas who don’t have high levels of competition and they have to choose to change otherwise that gap will be greater and they will miss out on global opportunities,” Whereat said.
Governments needed to invest in awareness and training in digital technology to create greater capacity for employment and more opportunities for technology-intensive businesses.
The third element to foster smart communities was innovation. Governments could boost innovation by ensuring public services were available online as well as over the phone. Information marketplaces would continue to emerge as data became freely available or as a trading commodity.
“It involves reworking what is important for the nation as a whole. The Australian Government needs to consider how they can make Australia more competitive globally such as through the national broadband network and mobile coverage program,” Whereat said.
“This white paper explores the best practice elements that encapsulate the creation and strategy of a smart community. Each council can determine what their resources are best suited to in terms of broadband services and digital literacy and access to markets.”
Regional areas could use smart communities to enhance and diversify local economies, address social and infrastructure problems, support growth and enrich lives of their citizens, the paper said.
“The state government has the ability to bring the initiatives to a local level including innovation centres or supporting businesses that councils can’t afford to deliver. They could provide the whole state with an initiative instead of just the local council, from funding SMBs to educating the locals,” Whereat said.
A digital literacy and educational program called Get Up to Speed started in Sunshine Coast and was delivered across Queensland.
The white paper was released in the lead up to the inaugural National Smart Communities Awards to be held by the BTA later this year. The program recognised the achievements of communities in Australia who developed and delivered initiatives that enhanced the economy on a platform of digital technologies and broadband connectivity. The award was divided into three categories for communities with a population under 50,000, between 50,000 and 100,000 and over 100,000.