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

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.