Rowland on the connected Pacific

James Riley
Editorial Director

The adoption of disruptive new technologies in Australia’s Pacific neighbours could help improve connectivity in the region and bridge the digital divide, shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland said.

Speaking at the Pacific Connect Forum on Thursday afternoon, Ms Rowland said that technologies like cloud services, data analytics, blockchain and the Internet of Things offer “tangible opportunities to deliver better and cheaper services using the internet”.

“By not having to deal with the constraints of sunk costs and highly entrenched legacy arrangements, Pacific nations may in fact preserve greater flexibility to adopt new technologies as a starting point – bypassing less effective and more capital intensive approaches that were commonplace before those technologies came along,” Ms Rowland said.

Michelle Rowland: Connectivity is critical to the development of Pacific neighbours

“Rather than playing catch-up and following existing development paths, emerging Pacific economies may, in certain areas, have the opportunity to leverage connectivity and disruptive technologies as a means to move directly into cheaper and more flexible forms of service delivery.”

In 2016, only 46 per cent of households in the Indo-Pacific region were connected to the internet, compared with 86 per cent of households in Australia.

Ms Rowland said it’s important to develop a framework which countries in the area can use to collect data in a consistent way, and identity insights and potential policies in response to this divide.

“It is useful to have framework by which nations – or regions – can collect data in a consistent manner, identity priorities and use those insights to develop policy responses which aim to deliver the most benefit at the least cost,” she said.

These Pacific neighbours needed to prepare for the opportunities and challenges that come with these new technologies, she said.

“In a world where the pace of technological change continues to increase, it would be fair to assume that such opportunities will come by more regularly,” Ms Rowland said.

“This can only lead me to conclude that the glass is half full if we can get the fundamentals of connectivity right.”

These nations need to have the infrastructure fundamentals in place in order to take advantage of the impending rollout of 5G networks, driverless cars and drones, which will “reshape how we conceptualise transport, asset ownership and the last mile delivery of physical goods”.

“I don’t want to overstate this or make it seem straight-forward. But at the same time, I do not want to understate the importance of such opportunities either. They are there for the taking if the infrastructure fundamentals are in place,” she said.

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