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New link to the world promises IT jobs for state

Innovation is Tasmania's future and we cannot let the latest opportunity to improve our information and communications technology sector go past, literally or figuratively.

We should connect to the new data cable that will run past the southern Tasmanian coast.

The ICT industry connects education and training to career paths in Tasmania, offering real opportunities for decent jobs combined with our wonderful quality of life.It is exactly the sort of industry sector that suits Tasmania's natural advantages.

If we want more people to move to Tasmania, and more Tasmanians to be able to choose to live here rather than have to leave to seek work, the ICT sector is one part of the answer.

But for the sector to really take off, ICT Tasmania says we need to improve our telecommunications infrastructure.

We need cheaper, increased backhaul capacity, that is, more connections into the spine of the global data network to increase our ability to send digital content faster.

Another modern, fast, data cable connection to Tasmania could provide greater competition and lower wholesale data transmission prices.

Prices are about 40% higher than for other regional routes but a new market player could trigger an ACCC determination to lower prices.

If such a cable takes a different route than across shallow, rough Bass Strait then it could also provide insurance and stability in case of disruption to the existing three connections with Victoria.

Telecommunications infrastructure company SubPartners is building a new undersea data cable, APX-Central, that will pass around the southern coast of Tasmania up to Sydney. It has offered the state government the chance to connect to it for about $20 million while it is laying the whole route.

If we don't connect now we can do so down the track, but it will be much more expensive.

Lowering the cost of data transmission and improving the speed means we may be able to attract new businesses to Tasmania, such as data servers and associated industries, to take advantage of our cool temperate climate, renewable energy and educated workforce.

We can compete for the technical service support centres, software engineers and programmers from major companies like IBM and more - and we will be in with a good chance because our quality of life is unmatched.

There is not currently the data demand in Tasmania for a private company to justify making the connection. But if the connection was made it may attract businesses that would increase demand and make future connections more attractive to the private sector.

It's one of those cases of "if you build it they will come".

While $20 million is a lot of money, it's less so when viewed as part of Australia's $50 billion five-year infrastructure plan or the $29.5 billion National Broadband Network. It is extremely cheap when you consider the cost of building a specific Hobart to Sydney connection.

If the state government is struggling to find the money then the federal government should step in with funding assistance. Infrastructure Australia identifies improved broadband access in regional areas as a priority spending area, which certainly fits the Tasmanian experience.

One of the Liberals election promises was to develop Tasmania as a data centre hub and increase backhaul capacity, but we don't have time to wait until, or if, there is a business case for a second Bass Link.

The state government has to give SubPartners an answer in a matter of weeks, or miss this opportunity to significantly boost new business opportunity.

Let's hope the federal and state governments connect us now while the cost is affordable, and we get the long-term jobs that could come with it.

First published in the The Mercury on 4 December 2014.

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