Armidale, with its population of 25,000, was the first mainland city in Australia to be connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN) and experience the impact of fiber speeds to the premise. That was an impressive achievement for a small city 200 km inland from Australia’s east coast, home to the Intelligent Communities of the Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. Getting to that point required substantial planning, lobbying and the creation of community-wide collaboration. In 2011, Armidale formed the Digital Economy Implementation Group with representatives from city, state and Federal governments, local technology firms, the local university and technical school, the chamber of commerce and community ambassadors. Through community education and facilitation, the group helped NBN achieve an 80% connection rate to commercial and residential properties.
NBN has allowed Armidale to build a business community that might be expected of a much larger and more central place. It includes WhiteHack, a network security company; RMTek, a cloud services provider to industrial and mining facilities; Quadrant Australia, developer of special interest group travel programs; and Enertek, which brokers green energy solutions. The local school system and university Smart Farm are enthusiast adopters as well, because of high-speed broadband’s ability to bring to Armidale the best of what the world has to offer.
Preparing for a Digital Future
City leaders are determined that NBN make a major contribution to the local economy and quality of life. The city established a Digital Hub providing hands-on access to technology as well as free technology courses, technical advice and digital literacy training. A complementary Digital Enterprise program focused on the small-to-medium enterprise sector with workshops and customized training. More than 6,000 people have received training at the Digital Hub, and Digital Enterprise sessions have attracted 700 local business people. One company benefiting from the technology focus is ICT International. With the city’s help, it won a grant for business expansion and development of a new water-measuring technology that can estimate the total amount of water available in a watershed. The company is now exporting to 45 countries.
Engaging the Community
Community engagement is fundamental to the city’s progress. A community-owned composting system called City to Soil has diverted 60% of municipal waste from the landfill and produces high-quality compost that is sold back to the community. Residential take-up is high enough, at 75%, that Armidale has introduced a commercial version of the service. The city is also engaged in development of a 20-year master plan and invites community participation through a communications program called CREATE 2350. The program posts potential development projects to its Web site and invites comment and suggestions from residents. One example is a proposed A$50 million Airport Precinct Master Plan, which is the subject of online exchange and meetings with Council at locations around Armidale.
By 2035, Armidale will have been a fiber-based community for 20 years, and will be the Australian test case for how small cities in rural locations can build dynamic economies while preserving the quality of life their people treasure.