I had not intended this to be my main post today, but I couldn't resist it!
In a post this morning on my personal blog, A blogging pot-pouri, I mentioned that today's mainland launch of the new national broadband network would be in Armidale. As I write, the Armidale Express is sending visual material around the Fairfax network, while the first main media coverage is going on line as in this Australian story.
As I watched the SKY News Report included in the Australian story, I realised that the Sky reporter (and many others)had probably never been to Armidale before and had no idea of the background.
The first photo from John Lindsay on Twitpics shows the launch held at the Presbyterian Ladies College. The caption reads simultaneous NBN choirs pulled it off.
This was not a small show in local terms. Armidale has had lots of PMs and ministers before, but this was a major local event.
Armidale is a major national educational centre. Education is the city's core business. However, it is a business that has struggled in the face of changing fashions and economic trends.
Declines in school boarding and the rise of boarding schools elsewhere, Government policies in Queensland that subsidised Queensland country kids to go to Queensland boarding schools, reduced the number of Armidale boarders. Inconsistent Federal Government policies towards tertiary education that favoured the big badly affected the University of New England.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Armidale lost a thousand jobs because of these collective changes. That's a lot. The population of the city has only just recovered.
This photo from Gordon Smith on twitpics shows Julia Gillard with the UNE VC (bald) just to the right.
To many in Armidale, the NBN became a critical vehicle that might assist the city to recover its educational prominence. The university, the schools, the chamber of commerce, the local newspapers, all combined to sell the concept. Not surprisingly, take up of initial connections was high, although only seven are in the full trial at this very early point. This will grow rapidly.
You will get a feel for some local reaction from this internode story.
To suggest as some commentators have done, that the launch was in Armidale because it's in Tony Windsor's seat is to completely miss the point. To a degree, the Government is in power because Armidale wanted the NBN and Armidale people convinced Tony Windsor that it was important.
Equally importantly, Armidale is a superb test bed site for the NBN. Not only does it want the NBN, it's a geographically contained location with a high technology base and key potential users in education, health and business.
If it doesn't work in Armidale, it won't work anywhere. If it does work, the NBN will have actual case studies to educate others.
I hope it works!