In years to come Malcolm Turnbull will be remembered as the communications minister who, under an instruction from then prime minister Tony Abbott, ‘demolished’ Labor’s 21st Century National Broadband Network. But another prominent politician had earlier inflicted enduring damage to any nascent aim of becoming an innovation nation and set us back in an emerging digitally enabled world. Are we heading towards a repeat of this mistake in telecommunications policy?
Australia invented the technology underpinning Wi-Fi, along with the ‘black box’ flight recorder, ultrasound scanners and the heart pacemaker – just to mention some of our globally recognised innovations. We have an enviable track record when it comes to technology.
And yet, apparently Prime Minister Scott Morrison just wants us to adopt other country’s technologies these days. This week he told us, “we’re not trying to create the next Silicon Valley here in Australia. That’s not it. We’ve just got to be the best at adopting (other country’s technology)”.
This week’s capitulation – that’s what it is – by communications minister Paul Fletcher sets us on a course that hopefully will see Australia start moving in the right direction again as we head further into a digitally-enabled future. It’s a welcomed move, but we’d be wise to take a close look at the detail in his National Press Club address before getting too excited.
The reality is many families will struggle with inadequate telecommunications, especially those NBN customers with the FTTN (fibre-to-the node) service delivered over old copper wires.
To be fair to Mr Fletcher, the culprits who destroyed a nascent 21st Century broadband network – Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Mitch Fifield – have all gone offline, so to speak. They’ve left parliament and they left behind something smelling like what comes out of the wrong end of the elephant in the room.
Communications minister Paul Fletcher today spoke at an industry conference and outdid his Coalition predecessors in an extraordinary attempt to defend the beleaguered National Broadband Network. These are just some of the comments he made to an incredulous audience of IT professionals who know so much more than he does.
Internet access is now the most complained about telco service in Australia, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s latest report. The state of our trouble-plagued NBN continues to see consumers heading to the authorities in the faint hope their broadband problems can be fixed. Alas, the future remains bleak for millions of NBN Co customers until the Government abandons a flawed set of technologies largely incapable of delivering 21st Century speeds and a reliable service.
Back in December 2016 I attended a dinner at which then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was one of the other guests. Toward the end of the evening Mr Turnbull beckoned me to join him in conversation.
Not missing an opportunity I told him that his NBN was in big trouble. Actually, I used far more colourful language to describe this fetid project. However, I also said that there was a solution that should be adopted ASAP. “I need to know about this. Come and see me”, was the then PM’s response.
According to PwC’s 18th annual Australian Entertainment and Media Outlook, video streaming platforms will outstrip Foxtel and other traditional Pay-TV services for market share in the next two years. More than half Australia’s adults are paying for subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, according to Media Partners Asia research.
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.
While neither side of politics said much about our increasingly-maligned National Broadband Network during the recent 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 the candidate’s 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.
As I’ve been arguing for some time now we need a bipartisan rescue plan if we are to reap the substantial benefits flowing from a digitally-enabled global economy.
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!