Eastern seaboard dwellers generally recognise Cooma as the windswept town where you buy a coffee and chips on the way to the Snowy Mountains. With its population of 7500 and predominantly agricultural economy, it seems hardly the place for a test pad for what could become a revolution in communications in regional Australia.
Nonetheless, local ISP Smart Radio Systems managing director Adrian Blake plans to provide the township with cutting-edge Internet connectivity, thanks to a new deal with communications infrastructure vendor Enterasys.
The deal will provide high bandwidth optical fibre connections running into every business and home in the town.
"Cooma residents are going to have access to the type of communication services that are considered luxuries even in urban centres. Not only are we providing Internet connectivity, but the infrastructure will also deliver things like telecommunications services and high-definition television," Blake said.
According to Blake, vendor competition is fierce in the telecommunications market, with many players offering high-quality services.
"We were approached by a lot of vendors like Cisco, Nortel and Lucent. They were all offering some very attractive solutions. However, we finally settled on Enterasys because of a combination of experience and ongoing service offerings," Blake said.
The deal is reportedly worth $3 million to the recently rebranded Enterasys.
Smart Radio Systems is also currently working with energy retailer Agility (formally AGL) in a joint trenching project which will see the first high-speed connections open to Cooma residents, in approximately eight weeks time.
Although the project is entirely driven by the private sector, Blake confirmed that government at a shire, state and federal level had been extremely supportive of the initiative.
While Blake concedes that the project will not directly provide many new job opportunities in the region, he believes the infrastructure has the potential to boost the Cooma economy.
"There are a lot of towns like Cooma around Australia that are all vying for investment and development opportunities. This kind of infrastructure will attract attention and investment to the town," Blake said. "We have an excellent climate for all sorts of different industries, we've got the real estate, the people and now we can also offer top-of-the-range communications infrastructure."
Lying 100km south of Canberra, Cooma provides an interesting case study for how improvements in telecommunications will affect regional areas. At this stage the social and economic ramifications of the new infrastructure are unclear.
"Everybody in the town is interested in it, but how they use it is up to them, we don't know if people are going to spend all day on the Internet or if they will have the opportunity to reduce their work load and spend some more time in the garden," Blake said.
To this end, Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga is conducting a social impact study which will attempt to measure some of the changes brought about by the introduction of the technology.