Implications of C-19 on our digital infrastructure
Committee for Melbourne (the Committee) held its forum ‘Implications of COVID-19 on our Digital Infrastructure’ on 9 July. Digital capability and competitive internet are two aspects of the Committee’s Melbourne 4.0 agenda. The forum was particularly relevant given the increase in the use and demand on digital technology both personally and professionally during the pandemic. The forum featured panelists Dr Ray Owen, Chief Technical Officer of NBN Co; Andrew Scott, Head of Technology at Telstra; and Professor Julian Thomas, Director of Social Change at RMIT. Aaron Belbasis, Futures Technology Leader at Aurecon and Chair of the Committee’s Competitive Internet taskforce also provided opening and closing remarks. The Committee thanks all the speakers for their contributions to the forum.
The panelists agreed that working from home will continue beyond the initial COVID-19 pandemic. They agreed that Australia is well-placed, with different technology infrastructure mixes in place and being rolled-out, to manage increased demand for connectivity and capacity in the short-medium term.
A range of topics on digital capability were covered in the discussion. Some key remarks from the panelists on these topics and networking session which followed the forum, are included below.
Digital infrastructure and online usage during the pandemic
NBN Co has been continuing the rollout of the National Broadband Network with about 25,000 premises being connected to the network every week. NBN Co has worked to ensure the network has stood up to the increased traffic that occurred because of COVID-19. One such example of NBN Co assisting with maintaining connections to residential and business customers was the approval of an additional 40% capacity to retail providers, and waiving the charges associated with this increased capacity.
5G has also continued to be rolled out by the major telecommunications companies. Australia is a global leader, being one of the first countries to make 5G commercially available. The new generation of mobile connectivity has coped well with increased traffic and Telstra was prepared for such high demand to occur.
Data provided in the forum highlighted that in a world where digital capability is becoming increasingly important, the cost of not being connected is rising dramatically. The digital divide has narrowed but has also gotten deeper – while new technologies have meant more people are connected to one another online, the costs for some have risen.
Improvements in infrastructure have meant that digital inclusion has improved for many, but it is important to follow-up this improvement with continued development of initiatives to improve digital capability and services such as telehealth and online education.
Cybersecurity is a topical issue, as more people work from home. There have been examples of malicious actors taking advantage of the pandemic to perpetrate scams. As people shift to working from home and move away from trusted servers to personal networks that may not be as robustly secured, initiatives to help individuals and businesses are welcome, particularly those that would increase digital literacy.
Digital engagement by businesses
Businesses have had to shift their operations online in the pandemic just as individual employees have had to shift to working online. NBN Co is anticipating 5-7% of the workforce will continue to work from home permanently post-COVID, and therefore the increase in capacity provided by NBN Co is fortuitous.
Usage of data and technology by Governments/businesses
As the environment in which we live and work in becomes increasingly digitised, Governments will need to adapt to the change accordingly. With more people expected to work from home permanently, city planning may need to accommodate more decentralised working patterns.
The panelists considered that the pandemic presents an opportunity to consider how precincts can be further defined and developed for new technologies. Defined precincts where technologies such as autonomous vehicles or drones could be used freely or with less restrictions would allow for businesses and individuals to take greater advantage of emerging technologies and devices.
All panelists agreed that increasing digital literacy is crucial to maintaining strong digital capability in the future. Educational institutions will need to start incorporating digital skills into their courses as employers seek more digitally capable employees. Additionally, telecommunications providers have identified engineering and data science skills as being integral to work going forward. The Committee will continue to explore this issue through its Future Skills taskforce.
For more information on the topics discovered, you can read the Committee’s article ‘Issues on Digital Capability’ here. Please contact Mark Lillehagen, Policy and Research Officer on firstname.lastname@example.org
You can watch the event here