Australia’s proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) could kill off up to a quarter of all companies listed on the ASX, new research suggests.
The Government calls the NBN a nation-building project and the plan is to spend $43 billion delivering super-fast broadband to every Australian home and office.
But Professor Colin Ferguson from the University of Melbourne believes businesses providing a specialist service, particularly those in regional areas, could be done out of a job as people turn to the virtual world for advice.
Professor Ferguson says the internet started taking away the need for specialist roles like auditors and compliance officers when it gained popularity in the 1990s and high-speed broadband will make life even more difficult.
He predicts up to 25 per cent of business listed on the ASX could be damaged by the NBN.
“It’s possible that 25 per cent of companies will have to certainly look at and adapt their business models if they wish to survive,” he said.
“That’s simply because a large proportion of company business models are simply around acting as agents to supply potential buyers in markets with more information, so they have a more informed decision about the transaction that’s going to occur.
“If we expand bandwidth and the cost of the buyers accessing the information [rises] … there is less of a role for these agency-type business models.”
The company responsible for the rollout of the high-speed network, NBN Co, has announced five first release sites where it will roll out and test the broadband fibre network.
One of those towns is Willunga in rural Adelaide.
Tom Laing lives in Willunga and provides specialist advice to small businesses. He sees the NBN as an opportunity.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity for small businesses to see the world as their oyster,” he said.
“Whether it be in terms of building their brand, building their customer base or developing product lines that they can actually sell online.
“I mentor people in the UK using Skype. I’ve mentored people in New Zealand using Skype. I use email extensively in terms of communicating with people around the world.”
Chartered accountants agree with Mr Laing.
CPA Australia spokesman Peter Docherty says accountants in regional Australia have been unable to access information from the Tax Office as readily as their city counterparts, and broadband will make them more competitive.
“If you’re a normal Pay As You Earn taxpayer with minimal investments, certainly you would actually use online technology,” he said.
“But we’ve seen professionals, we’ve seen individuals do that just through the Tax Office’s own online lodgement system.
“So I think from that perspective it’s very highly unlikely that an online platforms will really actually take away that need for individuals to actually talk about their personal circumstances with an accountant.”