NBN needs more funding, says Reckon executive

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NBN needs more funding, says Reckon executive

The accounting software provider’s COO has called on the government to increase its investment so the NBN can be completed sooner.

According to Reckon chief operating officer Dan Rabie, more businesses with fast internet means more cloud users, which means more successful businesses. However, the "NBN has failed" in this respect, Rabie told BIT. "Our internet speeds are really slow relative to the rest of the world."

The NBN should be regarded as a "foundation" technology for Australia, he said, and "there's a lot of devil in the detail."

Of course, Reckon does have an axe to grind, as its flagship product is the Reckon One cloud accounting system.

However, few would disagree with Rabie’s statement that: "The impact of this [fast broadband] is enormous...

"The biggest [business] enabler these days is the internet," he said, adding that it is hard for small and mid-sized businesses to compete without the right online tools, which require good internet speeds. "The flow-on effect is enormous in terms of productivity."

Rabie suggested that a private sector rollout of fast internet would have been more successful. He questioned whether the government has an appetite for the cost of doing the job properly, and noted that "you've got to move quickly".

He also thought a better approach would have been to engage an international company that had already completed a similar project.

While he would have preferred more private sector involvement, he isn't keen on the way some companies have cherry-picked small and profitable pockets of fast internet deployment (such as services to apartment buildings).

"I don't think that's a good outcome for the average Australian," he told BIT. Rabie would have mandated an open network, even if different parts were built by different private companies.

He pointed to the way New Zealand achieved a more successful rollout with higher speeds available to customers.

On that side of the Tasman, the task of building "ultra-fast broadband" and then providing wholesale services was parcelled out to four "local fibre companies" – Chorus, Enable Networks, Northpower Fibre and UltraFast Fibre – all under the auspices of government-owned Crown Fibre Holdings.

He accepts that the project is now too far advanced for major changes to be made, but he called for more aggressive funding from the government to allow NBN Co to get the job done more quickly.

NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow announced in mid-January that the company expects to reach the half-way point of the build by 30 June 2017, at which time 5.4 million homes and businesses should be covered. That number should increase to 9 million by June 2018.

"We aim to finish the build by 2020 and become the first fully-connected continent in the world," he said.

Morrow warned that the metro rollout will cause "some disruption for residents and business owners as the 14,000 people working across NBN and our delivery partners complete the task as soon as possible," but "the payoff will be worth it, with universal connectivity delivering health, commerce, education and lifestyle benefits to all Australians."

However, Rabie said "even incremental improvements are a positive outcome", and the goal should be to provide everyone with a decent internet service and then make it even better.

Reckon's recent survey of small business owners found one in three believe the continued rollout of the NBN is essential. Presumably the other two-thirds are located in areas with at least reasonable broadband.

The survey also found that 53 percent of respondents are not planning any new investment in the next 12 months, and 66 percent not looking to hire any new staff during 2017.

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