Access to high speed, affordable digital communications is a major enabler to attract potential new, retaining and connecting Townsville businesses to markets in Australia and around the world. Townsville Connect, in conjunction with Smart Precinct NQ, will drive creation of new products, new technologies and new business in Townsville and the region.
Content accurate as of July 2020.
Historically, the Townsville economy has relied heavily on industries that have a reduced share of employment in the new Australian economy. Townsville’s economy is now highly diversified and the future of the region is dependent on the development of a new range of complementary industries and skills if the social, economic and liveability goals are to be met as the capital of North Queensland.
Townsville Connect is the initiative that will locally implement this goal. It aims to deploy a high-speed, high-capacity data network providing next-generation broadband to a range of strategic priority precincts throughout Townsville including:
- The Townsville CBD
- The Strand
- Smart Precinct NQ (see below)
- Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct
- Health and Knowledge Precinct including TropiQ
- University and Education Sites
- North Queensland Regional Data Centre (NQDRC).
An Expression of Interest (EOI) process has been released to the market for identification and feasibility of different technical and commercial approaches to establish Townsville Connect services. Submissions to the EOI process closed in July 2020.
Smart Precinct NQ has been established to provide an entity that drives creation of new products, new technologies and new business within Townsville and the broader region.
Overall, Smart Precinct NQ seeks to provide support for businesses to establish, grow and remain in the region – as opposed to heading to a capital city to get the guidance and support needed. In a post COVID-19 environment, this ability to establish globally competitive business in lower-density areas becomes even more critical.
In Australia, the bulk of recent employment growth has occurred in the technology and service industry. These businesses are traditionally attracted to capital cities driven by access to markets.
Due to North Queensland’s physical distance from markets, high-speed, affordable digital connectivity is paramount to creating competitive business advantages. However, wholesale prices for broadband internet in some regional areas, like Townsville, are often up to 5 times more expensive than retail prices in Brisbane. The “digital divide” is a central factor working against the attraction and retention of high-growth service businesses in North Queensland.
Figure 1: Relative broadband prices between Brisbane and Regional Queensland
Following the Queensland Government’s 2020 investment into the QCN Fibre (formerly FibreCo) and its partnership with Council to connect the fibre to the NQRDC, different market approaches are now underway to leverage Council assets and improvements to backhaul options for the region and mitigate the existing digital divide.
Private Sector Access to Assets
Council currently owns a range of telecommunications assets, such as pits, conduits and cables, within the CBD and other areas that have been developed over the years to connect local government sites.
These assets can be used by service providers to unlock government-owned fibre optic cable by partnering with the private sector, making infrastructure available and bringing pricing parity to all Queenslanders.
Two levels of government to collaborate to allow access to assets so that private sector parties can establish projects.
Policy requirement to include conduit whenever and wherever pits and pipes are laid, with an associated discounted access pricing methodology to support last mile providers.
- Queensland Government
Regional Infrastructure Funding
Funding available doesn’t provide a separate dedicated pool for regional areas to achieve parity.
Establish a specific ‘access highway’ funding pool available only to regional areas to access supplementary funding contributions to major projects planned for delivery to integrate pit and pipe infrastructure as part of construction works to overcome the prohibitive costs of establishing new high-speed communications networks.
- Australian Government
No formal strategy or plan in place to provide incentives.
Implement a formal strategy and plan that provides incentives for delivery of high-speed, high-bandwidth Internet at parity prices across the state, extending QCN Fibre’s mission to include “last mile” action wherever the current commercially available rate is great than 10% above metro available equivalent (i.e. “Deliver Metropolitan Grade Services, At Metropolitan Prices, In Regional & Remote Queensland”).
- Queensland Government
Limited incentives for regional parity with 5G rollout timing and uncertainty around facilities Access Code for infrastructure sharing.
Utilise universal service obligation and Black Spot Program funding to ensure industry access to 5G environment in regional areas. Local council to prioritise requests from telcos for access to infrastructure for 5G base stations and cell sites.
- Australian Government
- Queensland Government
- Local Government
Establishing digital connectivity as a competitive advantage for Townsville will attract and retain both residents and business which in turn will generate economic activity in the region.
Townsville Connect serves as a valuable enabler for Smart Precinct NQ to deliver tangible outcomes, that can leverage Council and the Queensland Government’s investment in Smart Precinct NQ.
For businesses to grow and stay in Townsville creation of high-speed seamless connectivity becomes a fundamental requirement. Establishment of a 10G network between the regions productive precincts becomes critical to evolution of business in the region.
With the North Queensland Data Centre now fully operational, this next step will grow innovation and entrepreneurs in the region.
The move to working from home arrangements en masse due to the COVID-19 restrictions, has provided an opportunity for organisations to re-evaluate how and where their workforces work, with many survey’s now showing staff in favour of working from home/working remotely permanently. The IT sector has been ahead of the game in this area for many years. The creation of Townsville Connect and Smart Precinct NQ and the ICT Centre of Excellence would allow Townsville to capitalise on this new ‘work from wherever you like’ world and draw migration to the region.
Policies that lower costs for attracting and retaining new businesses will assist in recovery, including:
- Jobs and industrial relations
- Regional FBT exemption for flights that hub out of Townsville, rather than Brisbane or major capital cities.
Access to high speed affordable digital communications are an enabler of new business and allowing business that is already here to do business better, but it is not the sole determinant that would allow any of the projects on the project list to proceed. Major projects it would assist are:
- NQT-1097 – TropiQ enabling trunk infrastructure and Smartlink transport connection
- NQT-1202 – North Queensland ICT Centre of Excellence
- NQT-1084 – Southern industrial development corridor – Lansdown trunk infrastructure (NQT-1084).
- NQT-1024 – STEMBooster
- NQT-1029 – Place-based solutions for regional Queensland – Pathways from school to VET and Higher Education