While neither side of politics said much about our increasingly-maligned National Broadband Network during the election period, the fact is Australia is falling behind in the race to leverage the benefits – economic and social – of an emerging digitally-enabled future.
“It’s the economy, stupid” is the slogan attributed to James Carville, who was Bill Clinton‘s 1992 US presidential campaign strategist. It was about creating a clear message about his plans for the country.
In 2015, newly appointed prime minister Malcolm Turnbull similarly coined the term “innovation nation” to describe what he saw as a pressing need to make Australia more innovative and agile – and an issue that would differentiate his approach to government. Turnbull’s problem was that two years earlier, under pressure from his predecessor Tony Abbott, he had laid down tracks leading in the opposite direction.
Back in January I wrote about my disappointing time at the helm of the Australian Smart Communities Association. Since then all the Annual Reports have been taken down from the ASCA website. This happened only days after I’d asked for a copy of the latest report, having noticed that it had not been posted on the website along with all the others.
When I inquired about the return of these reports I was informed that they had been removed as part of a major website upgrade. While I couldn’t quite understand the logic of the argument (no other changes have been made to the site) I nevertheless accepted it and repeated my request for a copy of the latest Annual Report. Despite numerous subsequent requests I still have not received one.
As we approach the election, I’m thinking carefully about how a Shorten Labor Government will be remembered for our reform of education. It feels like every week I meet someone in their 60’s or 70’s who reminds me about how Gough Whitlam was responsible for them going to university. I’m struck by the way they passionately talk about this – even after so many decades. They tell me how the opportunity of a university education transformed not just their life, but the course of their family’s life.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has had to lend its 65 percent owned Foxtel $300 million, with the likelihood many more millions will need to be pumped into the business in coming months. Once a jewel in the crown of his local empire, Australia’s only surviving Pay-TV service is in trouble, with a dwindling subscriber base and flatlining revenues. Belatedly, Foxtel is moving to a new business model, with products such as its new sports streaming service Kayo.
As sure as the Sun will rise from the East tomorrow we’ll soon enough be rushing out buying 8K televisions, the next technology upgrade bringing even more ultra-high definition pictures to our screens. When the original high definition TV’s went on the market they were so expensive it took years before they became commonplace in Australian homes. These days more than 90 percent have HDTV’s in some form, and prices have dropped dramatically.
Increasingly, people are watching content delivered via the Internet rather than traditional terrestrial broadcasts. Yet, for many consumers of film and television content our dud NBN means upgrading to the latest HDTV is pointless.
Labor’s communications spokesperson, Michelle Rowland, has outlined a very sensible approach to fixing the dud NBN. In fact, should the Coalition retain office it would be well advised to adopt Labor’s plan.
As Rowland rightly points out, six years of flawed technology choices has created a delivery disaster and it will be no simple task to return the project to its original vision – fast, reliable and affordable broadband for all Australians.
Today I cancelled my order for the NBN. I had initially accepted an offer to switch over from my current provider before making some inquiries about the service I might expect. Turns out my HFC (cable) connection is being replaced.
When I checked with several RSP’s (NBN Co retailers) the best they could offer me was a plan on 50 Mbps – with the possibility that I might be bumped up to 75 Mbps, dependng on tests carried out after installation. I currenty have a regular and uninterupted download speed of 115+ Mbps. Why would I switch?
2019 is shaping up as the year we’ll be forced to face the fact we are building a National Broadband Network that simply isn’t good enough. It’s also the year our major telcos will start rolling out their capital-intensive 5G mobile networks, having spent millions of dollars buying up spectrum from the federal government.
Nobody seems to have asked if we really need 5G right now. Or why Australia is rushing to be one of the first countries to adopt 5G when 4G speeds are more than most of us realistically need at the moment, or will need for some time? Too few commentators have delved into the ‘value proposition’, or asked if 5G, at least in its first iteration, will actually be all that some people are predicting.
As a nation keen to be a leader in the 21st Century’s digitally-enabled world we’d arguably be better off fixing the NBN before investing in mobile networks few in the know reckon will add much to the consumer experience.
Across the country people are coming to understand that the broadband network we are being delivered is a dud – especially in the bush!
The boss of the ACCC, Rod Sims, has told The Australian “its recent dealings with the retail telcos has highlighted a weakness with the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) access technology”.
For numerous broadband experts, not to mention millions of hapless NBN customers, this might be seen as a classic ‘no shit Sherlock’ moment. However, it is probably the most significant recent development in the long running saga that began with Labor’s 21st Century fibre-based national broadband network, only to end in tears for so many when former prime minister Tony Abbott ordered his heavily-wedged communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to “destroy” the NBN.
In my opinion, the National Broadband Network will not be completed until everyone has access to fast, reliable and affordable broadband. On that basis the rollout will take us well beyond the current official deadline of 2020. It looks like a lot of NBN Co customers are in for a long hard ride unless the Government instrcuts the board to abandon FTTN (the trouble-plagued technology using Telstra’s ageing copper wires) sooner rather than later.