Why the NBN is yet to shine for suburban businesses

I’m generally a big fan of the folk over at Fairfax. I’m a long-time subscriber to at least one of their printed publications and recognise their high standards of journalism and publishing.

In fact, they gave me my first job in casual journalism. Remember Juke Magazine?

But I feel they were somewhat off the money in a recent expose into the impact of the much vaunted national broadband network on one of its first recipients, outer Hobart suburb Midway Point.

In what to me seemed an attempt to question the worth of NBN for business, Fairfax Online recently ran a feature on how local residents and business owners were using and embracing – or as it turned out, not really using or embracing, the three-year-old (in that town) network.

In fact, the writer struggled to find much benefit at all, citing a slow signup rate and two businesses whose operators could name, at best, some minor benefits that the information superhighway could deliver.

Starved for online success

The local store reported that transaction transmissions like eftpos were ‘heaps quicker’ and that a local signwriter was enjoying the ability to transmit larger files much faster.

In fact, in perusing the NBN Co published case study of the signwriter, it’s quite clear that the benefits of the NBN aren’t quite as trivial as the Fairfax writer makes out.

“The first thing I did was download a 17 megabyte file from a graphic artist that took just eight seconds,” business owner David Jones says.

Before the NBN, I would either have sent it over on a DVD, or let the download max out my connection. The difference is just astonishing,” David said.

“If an overseas customer suddenly wants something, I can just draw it up and email it over straight away even if it’s a large file,” he says. “It’s just easy to do with that kind of speed and capacity over the NBN.”

Given the nature of his business, it can be seen that the NBN isn’t just beneficial, it’s transformational – as anyone who’s ever tried to download a 17Mb file could attest.

But apart from this business, I’ve found that ‘outer suburbs’ like Midway Point are the most unlikely of all businesses to adopt technology like NBN due to some important key factors.

Suburban slow adopters

It’s fair to say that suburban businesses are not as fast to adapt as city-based businesses because they tend to attract smaller, less advanced businesses.

There tends to be a greater concentration of smaller manufacturers and ‘mum and dad’ retailers and trades businesses, and these have tended to be slower to embrace some communications technologies (the notable exception of course being mobile telephony).

There is simply not the urgency to embrace technology the way city-based businesses do – probably because technology has less impact on their day-to-day operations.

Connected country cousins

Even regional businesses appear faster to embrace communications technology than suburban businesses. Because their distance is more of a barrier to their businesses, distance-reducing technologies like the internet put them on a more level playing field to their city counterparts, so the benefit to them is far greater.

The internet allows them to communicate and promote themselves as if they are in the city – drastically reducing a range of travel, transport, promotional and other costs.

Having spent 10 of my last 11 years working and living in the middle Melbourne suburb of Box Hill, I can testify to this slower adoption on the part of smaller business there.

Bearish in Box Hill

Whilst larger businesses in the area were as tech savvy as anyone (particularly given it’s the home to household names like MYOB, Motorola and Hewlett Packard), I found that most smaller business operators took a guarded and even sceptical approach to technology like the internet.

By comparison, smaller business operators around more urban St Kilda are falling over each other to take advantage of the now well-documented benefits the internet can bring.

I don’t say this with any disrespect at all – it’s just the nature of business demographics and economics.

Therefore it’s fair to suggest that the slowness of adoption of the NBN by business in Midway Point has little to do with the merits or otherwise of the network, but by their slowness to adopt anything overly technological at all.

If you could get it, how would your business benefit from high speed broadband?

Personally, I can’t wait.

Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.




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