Digital boost for South East Queensland off to a good start

While south-east is being given a large-scale digital boost, the funding may have better served smaller infrastructure projects. Paul Budde reports.

EARLIER THIS YEAR the Federal announced the South East Queensland (SEQ) City Deal (the agreement). With my interest in development, I saw this plan properly.

This region hosts several of the leading smart city councils in . Over the last decade or so I have been involved in the development of smart cities in Ipswich, Moreton Bay, Logan and the Sunshine Coast. I also had some meetings with representatives of SEQ Council of Mayors because this organization is ideal for creating cooperation across the region. So I’m really excited about the regional focus of this ‘Deal’.

The governments and councils involved signed a $1.8 billion deal in March. The deal is supported by $667.77 million from the Commonwealth, $618.78 million from the State, $501.62 from SEQ councils and $75 million from industry.

Key projects that I am particularly interested in include $70 million for digital connectivity to support location-based telecommunications infrastructure and enhanced digital connectivity and $150 million for SEQ Innovation Economy Fund to support capital projects that promote and grow the region’s innovation economy.

Using smart cities to protect democracy

The connectivity of smart cities can be used as a tool against neoliberalism, bringing people together and reviving the spirit of democracy.

The deal includes more than 30 projects from Brisbane to Toowoomba, Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast, focused on upgrading the region’s transport and digital networks and improving “liveability” to support a growing population.

The main focus of the deal is on big ticket items such as road and rail infrastructure (I found nothing on cycleways). click here for an overview of the selected projects.

Large-scale infrastructure projects are attractive for newspaper headlines and to win votes. But what I’ve learned over the years, especially looking at a lot of foreign city deals, is that small-scale projects can have a much bigger impact in making cities and especially local neighborhoods more livable. The good thing is that they have thought about this, but in the overall scale they remain a minor part of the deal.

As information and communication technology (ICT) becomes more and more embedded in any infrastructure – be it transport, housing, healthcare or education – the ICT elements of the larger projects can also be used in the wider smart city development. The key here, however, is that these developments are not only done with the traditional silo mentality.

The councils I have worked with are keenly aware of the synergies that can be achieved when looking at these projects at a horizontal scale rather than a vertical (silo-based) scale. In other words, with that ICT infrastructure in place, what else can be achieved if you think and act smart?

City-as-a-service – a new business and investment model

A mutually beneficial system between municipalities and private companies should be in place for investments in large-scale smart city platforms.

It is therefore good to see that the dedicated telecom investments within the Business are seen in that context. Funding for such projects includes $30 million for a project to with industry to improve digital connectivity on selected rail corridors, as well as $40 million for local digital priority projects. These will include the deployment of location-based digital infrastructure, projects to address localized connectivity gaps and projects to improve the reliability of telecoms services across the region.

Additionally, $750,000 has been set aside for a Smart Region Digital Plan, which aims to integrate smart solutions into industries and communities across the region.

There is also $150 million in a so-called innovation economy fund to invest in nationally significant capital projects that support small businesses and social enterprises, with money for studies to improve digital connectivity and better transport corridors.

Finally, on my list is a $285.8 million SEQ Liveability Fund to deliver improved amenities and support environmental infrastructure and open spaces. The deal includes a commitment to explore opportunities to build on smart city expertise from the region’s local authorities and to leverage the new Sunshine Coast International submarine cable network.

While I applaud the deal, with so much money involved, more of the fund should have been allocated to the less smart city projects.

Paul Budde is an independent columnist in Australia and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consulting organization. You can follow Paul on @PaulBudde.

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