Customer bases of regional ISPs are in danger of being whittled away by government-sponsored Community Technology Centres (CTC), according to Barry Andersson, managing director of regional NSW ISP Simplex.
"I have basically been told not to bother with broadband," Andersson said. "The planned CTC for Temora takes away two of my biggest potential customers the Library and the Council, and destroys any chance I might have had to roll out broadband services in the town."
Among a series of IT spends the announced by the NSW State Government were plans to invest $32 million in projects targeted at the use of information technology, an increase of $20 million over the last budget. Of this $4.9 million is earmarked for a series of CTCs to be established across regional NSW in towns with populations of less than 3000.
According to a spokes person for the NSW Minister for Information Technology Kim Yeadon four locations have already been announced, and a further 58 CTCs will be rolled out to regional centres that meet a series of pre-requisites. The four towns that have already been accepted are Gundagai, Minindee, Temora and Narromine.
"The town councils or shire councils have to apply for the funding to set up a CTC," the spokesperson said. "They have to demonstrate how it would help the local community, and how the CTC would become self-sustaining within the specified three year period. Some are doing it by offering training courses and IT skills, others might be hiring out equipment, or reselling the broadband access."
According to Andersson the government's plans will ultimately result in the establishment of subsidised competitor to his regional ISP.
"I am going to loose the local council and the library as my customers initially, and basically have to limit my market to dial up services," Anderson said. "But who is going to want dial up services when they can get broadband services from the CTC."
Andersson contends that the money would be better spent enabling preexisting ISPs to roll out broadband into rural and remote areas.
However, the Minister's office has defended its program, pointing out that there was ample opportunity for local business to become involved in the establishment of the CTCs, and that broadband services would not be taken into account in towns where such connections were already available.
"We are providing Broadband services where to towns where it didn't previously exist, " said a spokesperson for the Minister's spokesperson. "We are filling a hole that the private sector and the federal government has not been prepared to tackle, I don't know how anyone can seriously critisise that."
Other technology providers are more positive about the CTCs. Chris Marsh, owner/operator of Computech Temora said the soon-to-be-established centre would provide people with IT skills which should increase sales of IT equipment generally.
"That has to be a good thing for us, people are more likely to buy a PC if they know how to use one," Marsh said. "A lot of people out here are still treating computers as vampires, but they are going to have to bite the bullet now that the banks are forcing people to use online banking."
John McClymont media spokesperson for the NSW Department of Information Technology said the CTC program encouraged local businesses to become involved and even initiate the establishment of a CTC through their local council.
"Once the towns have received the funding they are not compelled to procure the infrastructure from any single source," McClymont said. "They are encouraged to buy locally, however it is entirely up to them."
McClymont also said that town representatives could contact the Bathurst based CTC service centre on 1800 282 679 for more information about CTC applications.