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?
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.
Today we have finally reached the much-vaunted date on which the Government said it would have completed the rollout of the trouble-plagued National Broadband Network. Despite widespread industry expectations a media blitz by communications minister Paul Fletcher has so far not materialised. No ribbon cuttings and no skywriter plane spelling out “Mission Accomplished” as some jokingly predicted (see postscript).
As most of us are holed-up in our homes working or studying online as a response to the Coronavirus a bunch of politicians ignored medical advice and gathered together in Canberra. Perhaps it’s time for a virtual parliament?
Of course this would require that we first fix the NBN so that all our elected representatives and their advisors have decent broadband at home and in their electorate offices.
As we deal with COVID-19 people are being required to work from home. Students are doing their lessons online. Telehealth is becoming more common. All this will change the way we use the Internet forever.
In this article I’m focussing on a specific event which has highlighted a ‘digital divide’. But the problem goes well beyond the current situation. Access to the online world is denied to too many individuals and groups, including those living in remote areas, people with disabilities, Indigenous Australians and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Access to technology and ‘digital literacy‘ are two of the most critical issues confronting us in the digitally-enabled 21st Century. But to begin with Australia needs #BetterBroadband!
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.
Telstra’s decision to only offer a maximum 50Mbps plan to more than half its NBN customers is another setback in the quest for #BetterBroadband and further vindication of Labor’s plan to make Australia what Malcolm Turnbull subsequently dubbed an “innovation nation”. It’s the latest fulfilment of a highly political decision by Tony Abbott to instruct Turnbull to demolish NBN Co.
If anyone knows about good and bad broadband it’s Telstra. And they know that anything other than fibre is second best.
Last week submissions closed for a parliamentary inquiry into the National Broadband Network. TelSoc, of which I recently became vice-president, lodged a submission prepared by a working group of highly qualified industry experts. Unless the federal Government takes notice of two key recommendations millions of consumers are destined to continue suffering second rate broadband for years to come.
This massive infrastructure project is scheduled to be completed by mid-year, although as I have previously pointed out that’s at best a theoretical deadline given that replacing about a third of the fixed-line network will arguably need to begin almost immediately.
A report released by communications minister Paul Fletcher has confirmed that so-called ‘Internet piracy’ declined dramatically following the arrival of Netflix and other online streaming services – debunking the need for ‘site-blocking’ laws controversially introduced following a well-funded lobbying effort by local representatives of the Hollywood studios. In the same week NBN Co announced it is cutting in half its pricing for new connections to encourage reluctant consumers to sign up to its troubled broadband service.
What these two incidents suggest is we need politicians to engage more with industry experts when making technology-related policy decisions. We also need IT / telecommunications groups to do more to ensure the government of the day is well advised. And we need more mainstream media focus on keeping everyone better informed.