Rural SMEs lack skills to use the NBN, report reveals

Greater awareness is needed in rural regions of Australia of the benefits and education programs available in association with the National Broadband Network, or SMEs risk falling behind and losing the skills necessary to innovate.

Research commissioned by Innovation and Business Skills Australia has revealed small business owners and local residents in early-release NBN sites do not currently have the strategic technology skills necessary to capitalise on the broadband network.

The research found Aborigines, people over 55, low-income earners and those without tertiary qualifications are particularly likely to lack the necessary skills.

The research was conducted by Marcus Bowles from the University of Tasmania’s Digital Economy and Regional Futures project and has been used to produce two reports for IBSA.

The research included interviews with people in early-release areas and reviews of Twitter and blogs from recent NBN subscribers. The report found “severe” dissatisfaction with some service providers at three early-release NBN sites.

People reported “benign neglect, unethical or poor service and even possible illegalities and unconscionable conduct” according to the findings.

The report found the digital divide “may well be widening” due to individuals in rural towns not having had experience with high-speed broadband.

“Compared with urban Australians who have had prior access to high-speed broadband and the requisite skills, individuals and small businesses in NBN early release rural and regional sites and those groups with historically low digital literacy apparently lack the e-skills required to more rapidly leverage the NBN,” the research finds.

Education programs are in place with IBSA offering VET courses and other professional development programs to further the strategic skills of people in regional Australia, but more awareness of these courses are needed and traditional education methods are not always effective.

Marcus Bowles told The Australian disruptions to a major project such as the NBN could be expected, but a lack of skills in rural Australia could place limitations on competitve advantages the network has the potential to provide businesses.

“Early indicators are all the effort to promote access without the skills to use it will slow the adoption and competitive advantages Australia is seeking to gain from the investment in the NBN,” he says.

The government hopes the NBN will increase access to healthcare in regional Australia, expand online education opportunities and increase the digital engagement of rural communities.



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