NBNCo chief, Mike Quigley, considers Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s commitment to e-Health services for online consultations to rural and remote Australia to be reasonable despite admitting an NBN rollout to those regions will take some time.
At Labor’s campaign launch, the Prime Minister promised $250 million on Medicare rebates for online consultations for rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas by July next year if Labor is re-elected.
She spoke of consultations conducted by live video streaming and also announced $50 million for a GP afterhours helpline which will provide medical advice through the NBN.
But at an ACS-TGA lunch, Quigley conceded there was no solid NBN timetable on tackling rural and remote regions, acknowledging there are some physical limitations restricting the rollout. These areas have little to no broadband connectivity.
As stipulated by NBN Co, a percentage of rural and remote locations will receive NBN services via satellite.
“It takes time to launch new satellites and provide the sorts of services with the sort of download capacity, the sort of throughput – not just speeds – that we believe people in rural and remote communities deserve,” he said. “… We are going to be trying to provide substantial improvements with an interim satellite solution and we are going to be trying to get up a wireless trial as fast as we can.”
While the NBN is going to take some time to get to rural and regional Australia, there is no reason why e-Health applications for these regions shouldn’t start now, Quigley said.
“It takes some years to develop [e-Health applications] and what the Prime Minister has done is signal the medical community ‘hey this e-health thing is really going to happen and its worthwhile investing in some of these applications’,” he said. “We have existing technology which you can certainly do something on.
“Will those things become more sophisticated using the capabilities of fibre and broadband wireless, I think 'yes', but there is no reason why they can’t start now.”
Quigley said he has not had discussions with the Coalition regarding what would happen to NBN Co should the Opposition take over government.
“No one knows the fate of NBN Co should the government change,” he said.