By the numbers: will Willunga prove NBN's success?

By the numbers: will Willunga prove NBN's success?

Summary: Does Willunga disprove the myth that the NBN will only be popular with those who can afford it?


There's always been the risk that the National Broadband Network (NBN) will only be popular with people who can afford it, rather than those who could benefit from it the most. Yet, 48km from Adelaide, Willunga is already showing that high-speed internet could have a positive impact on regional Australia.

(Credit: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

Of the first release sites, Kiama is reportedly the area with the highest take-up rate, but on paper that's hardly a surprise. Like Armidale, the other NSW first release site, it has a disproportionately high percentage of managers and professionals in employment — which is good news for innovation — with a low unemployment rate. Kiama's population is also relatively young; 19 per cent are aged over 55, compared to 26 per cent across the state. Of small businesses in the area, 23.5 per cent are professional and business services; a perfect fit for a connected economy. So, if the NBN didn't work there, then there would be a problem nationally.

Townsville has also been quick to jump onto the new network. Again, though, it has a young crowd (only 19 per cent are aged 55+ compared to a state average of 24 per cent), with a low unemployment rate (4.2 per cent against 5.7 per cent across Queensland) and an income of 5 per cent more than the average Queenslander.

Take-up has been much slower in Brunswick, the Melbourne suburb blighted by high unemployment and an average wage below many outlying areas of the state. So does this mean that the NBN will struggle in areas where jobs are scarce? Could we face the chicken-and-egg problem, where connectivity can create employment, but only for those who can afford it?

Thankfully, Willunga demonstrates otherwise. It's in the local government area of Onkaparinga, where the unemployment rate (6.3 per cent in 2010) is on a par with Brunswick, 26 per cent of the population is aged 55+ and wages are 5 per cent lower than the state average. Armed with these figures — and the lowest rate of professionals and managers in any first release site — you'd expect interest here to be lower than anywhere. Yet, it is in second place for sign-ups, only marginally behind Kiama.

If Willunga's connectivity turns into new jobs, then the NBN really can show itself to be a benefit to society. Indicators like unemployment and average wages don't seem to have been considered as benchmark measures for the success of the project, but hard numbers like this are more meaningful to the economy than take-up rates or the financial return on the infrastructure investment. As the NBN rolls out across the country, it will be the impact on towns like Willunga that will be worth watching. Let's hope that some positive employment data shines through, and that there are many more towns like it as the NBN rolls out.

Topics: NBN, Government, Government AU


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • Willunga locals.

    while Onkaparinga may have a lower income demographic, and higher unemployment than the other areas mentioned in the article Willunga, (where i live) is a well off town, housing and average income in town are very high compared to the rest of the Onkaparinga area, As Willunga is a heritage town.

    As for new jobs, with about 30 commercial premisis in town i dont see this happening on a scale worth mentioning. Other than the obviouse work of installations for NBN.

    One new job however is that of us installing NBN free hotspots at the local pub.
  • Demographics

    Part of the consequence of casualization and short term employment means increasing residential mobily and percentages of rental Properties, Brunswick, Carlton, Fitzroy have many students and a high rental ratio, 12 and 24 Month contracts for broadband are not viable especially for copper with the high install cost and substantial delay.
    Short term products such as Club Telco become viable, if successfull in terms of market share that product may be more widely available. Tied in with B2B for almost immediate connection. ??
    Interesting to watch the evolution
    Abel Adamski
  • Time to re-adjust assumptions

    Kevin McLoud’s recent documentaries on the slums of Mumbai showed that no matter how poor the residents were, entertainment, through television in their case, was a higher priority than freedom from disease ridden drains and appalling working conditions. In their priorities, entertainment ranked just below food...and education.

    I suggest in the west, access to the internet will fall into the same category: it can be the cheapest form of entertainment for the masses. Don’t assume therefore that people on low incomes “can’t afford” internet access as the word spreads to those who are yet to experience easy access to it.
  • NBN facilitates short term contracts too

    Abel makes an interesting point about the unattractiveness of 12-24 month contracts for communities with many short-term occupants.

    Because every premises gets an NBN box, and any one of the four data ports or two VoIP ports are remotely activated in minutes, it becomes possible for resellers to offer short term contracts. There is no costly activation or decommisioning required as with ADSL, HFC or satellite. It is similarly easy to churn providers, just activate a service on another port then deactivate the old one.

    So yet again, the NBN is a game-changer in this regard, because it is ubiquitous and vendor-independent.