Australians love their mobile technology. As a nation we have the second highest uptake of smart phones and are among the biggest users of tablets in the world. We are gaga for data and all a-twitter for Twitter, and for good reason. Diminutive digital devices are making our lives easier and our economy stronger.
A recent report by Deloitte Access Economics, Mobile nation: the economic andsocial impacts of mobile technology, highlights the role of mobile technology in boosting Australia’s productivity performance. It calculates that the productivity benefit from mobile technology in 2011 was $495 million and estimates that this figure will grow to $12 billion by 2025 from current developments.
The report is clear evidence that the key to improving the long term performance and growth of our economy lies in our ability to ride the information technology wave. This will be linked to an expansion of spectrum resources and broadband technology.
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For Australia to seize the opportunities of the Asian Century the Australian business community needs to confront an uncomfortable possibility – it may be the weakest link.
Australian business is typically sparing in its praise but never short of criticism of our national and state governments. Sometimes, we are so busy finding the negative in the details, we don’t support the positive in the big picture.
For example, it is time for Australian business to say the following: ubiquitous national broadband is an unqualified good thing for Australia and a massive opportunity for business at home and in Asia.
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Science is thrilling and we are all beneficiaries of advances in technology. But breathless headlines that suggest each latest technological breakthrough in communications is going to make the NBN redundant are extremely wide of the mark.
Yesterday came the news that scientists in California had found a way to transmit data 85,000 times faster than current broadband speeds by twisting beams of light.
It led to renewed criticism that NBN Co was risking taxpayers’ money by building a communications network with fibre optic cable at its core. Fibre, the argument goes, might be easily be overtaken by another breakthrough on the technological horizon.
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Saying the NBN is it for the next 10 years is fundamentally wrong.
In its quest to sell the NBN to consumers, Stephen Conroy and his Labor colleagues took to the streets last year proclaiming that fibre-optic internet cables would set Australia for the foreseeable future, implying that no further work needs to be done.
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Where will you be in 2050? According to a new report on Australia’s digital future you could be working from your smarthome and communicating with the office via your eyeballs.
You’ll be gobbling up 200GB of data a month, probably having sex with robots, and sitting pretty on a household income of around $188,000 in today’s money.
Of course, IBM’s Snapshot of Australia’s Digital Future to 2050 also makes the wild prediction that the photographic film processing industry is in trouble, so who knows where these crazy cats are getting their information from.
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The right to digital access, should be a right we expect like a right to equality, or accessibility.
Recent debate about the price households will pay for their broadband as the National Broadband Network (NBN) is rolled out, has raised issues such as affordability.
As that debate continues, it is important to also focus on the need for digital inclusion to improve quality of life, and on extending opportunities - particularly in employment.
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Remember those rabid Beta-tape aficionados of the late 70s and early 80s?
You know, the ones who swore they had found the one true technology and held firm to their allegiance as the video library shelves became chock-a-block full of VHS tapes and the beta tapes were relegated to a dark, dingy corner out the back before disappearing altogether.
“Beta’s better!” they would cry in frustration. And technically, it could be argued they were right. Problem was, consumers voted VHS with their wallets. And Beta, despite its small band of loyalists, died as a mainstream technology.
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Julia Gillard is hoping a breakthrough broadband announcement made on the eve of her first anniversary as Prime Minister will herald a much needed reconnection with voters.
With opinion polls showing support for her Government at the lowest level of any in decades, and her own approval tanking, the timing of the NBN announcement was a handy, if clearly deliberate distraction.
But if anything, it was probably undersold, given its weight.
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Yesterday’s announcement that the NBN finally made it to the mainland was good news for the many Australians who have deplorable access to broadband services. But why did it take so long?
Simple: Australia’s communications policy-makers are bounded by a centrally-controlled, single-solution approach that has been around since the time of the telegraph. This model leaves no room for innovation, encourages contractors to artificially inflate prices, and stalls whenever a skeleton can be found in the closet of the head honcho of NBN Co.
When the Canadian Samuel McGowan brought the telegraph to Victoria in 1853, his plan to become a telegraph entrepreneur was thwarted by the Victorian government’s decision to rollout the telegraph network as a public monopoly.
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As the National Broadband Network juggernaut rolls on, one has to wonder if any thought has been given to the obvious danger that the NBN may fail. NBN supporters assume that it will succeed. This crash through or crash approach is a very dangerous way to pursue government policy objectives.
In this context, failure can mean a number of things. For starters, the NBN could fail financially. This could include construction costs spiralling out of control where, for example, labour and skills shortages drive up project costs.
The NBN Corporate Plan itself reveals that at the height of construction up to 6,000 premises per day will be connected to the NBN. That’s a lot of premises and a lot of skilled labour which means lots of risk to the NBN. Any delay in connecting such a larger number of premises would delay completion of the NBN. Any delay would substantially increase project costs and threaten the financial viability of the NBN.
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Besides liking to get their picture in the newspaper, the politicians of the world have something in common: They are struggling with the internet.
Not just how to set up wireless on their laptops, or how to clear incriminating sites from their browser histories, but how to regulate information itself.
In almost every country on earth, the free access to the world’s data is causing embarrassment, consternation and even panic. And the lawmakers are reacting.
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Will the NBN ever be financially viable? The short answer is most likely “No”.
If there were suspicions in the past, the release of NBN Business Plan on Monday simply acted to confirm the doubts over NBN’s financial viability.
In fact, the NBN Business Plan raises considerable uncertainty over such key issues as (i) the take-up rate for the NBN; (ii) wholesale and retail pricing of services; (iii) the impact of high speed wireless broadband on NBN’s financial viability; (iv) the time to build the NBN and (v) the projected internal rate of return for the NBN.
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Update 6am: The ABC is reporting the non-disclosure agreement has been shrunk to just two weeks, making it impossible to see how the demand for seven years, or even three, was ever justified.
Details of the National Broadband Network business plan are apparently so secret that in order to see them you have to sign a seven year confidentiality agreement. But objections by cross-benchers have now forced the Government to more than halve the terms of that agreement to just three years.
If you’re confused it’s because the Government has embarked on a confusing strategy in a bid to solve its growing NBN business plan problem that will dominate the politics of the last sitting week. The Government is blurring the line between information that is commercially sensitive and that which is politically sensitive.
In a bid to pass the NBN legislation Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told cross-benchers they could see the see the mysterious NBN business plan, but they would need to sign a seven year confidentiality agreement. Greens communications spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam and other cross-benchers have politely told the Government to go jump.
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The reintroduction of the Competition and Consumer Safeguards Bill is a key step towards delivering a vibrant and competitive telecommunications sector. It is in the interests of all Australians.
The Gillard Government is committed to addressing the mistakes of the past and establishing an effective and efficient telecommunications regulatory framework.
Reforms outlined in the Bill include restructuring the market to promote greater competition and strengthening consumer safeguard measures such as Customer Service Guarantee and the Universal Service Obligation.
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It’s time to put an end to all this partisan negativity. At a time when people are looking to our leaders for vision, it is great to see a political party step up with a long-term vision for the nation.
I am referring of course to the Coalition’s decision to destroy the National Broadband Network and all who promote it and instead uphold Australian values by promoting a more leisurely pace of download.
While the public may be firmly behind the NBN as detailed in today’s Essential Report, I wonder how many have really thought through the implications of faster efficient broadband on their already busy and cluttered lives.
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The federal government has been told the National Broadband Network can be rolled out for at least $5 billion less than the original $43 billion earmarked. News.com.au has the story here, but a quick back-of-a-napkin calculation on what it means:
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Update 2:20 PM: Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has announced today the NBN will be able to be completed for $5 billion under initial budget at $38 billion. The implementation study also found the network could be viable without Telstra, but said it would be preferable for the Government to strike a deal with the telco.
Australian households and businesses will find out today how much they will have to pay for state-of-the-art broadband when the Government finally tables long-held advice on its controversial $43 billion national broadband network.
A detailed implementation study into the proposed NBN, which promises broadband connections to virtually all Australian homes and businesses at speeds of of up to 100 megabits per second, will be released this afternoon.
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Attention Senator Conroy: Forget about filtering the internet. Instead please pour your energy, time and (our) money into providing Australia with an internet – and a phone system for that matter – that works, is accessible and affordable.
Many Australians are likely oblivious to the communications dark ages in which we live. In the USA I can connect my home or office to a variety of internet providers, all offering great, low-priced deals. In Australia I am given a choice of a couple of providers with a few extra resellers offering outrageous prices and slow service.
In the USA almost all internet plans provide unlimited downloads and usage. In Australia I am offered plans limiting the hours I can spend on the internet; if I exceed this I am hit with exorbitant hourly rates or a slower internet.
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As cynical as it might sound you can’t help but think that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy would have been relieved last week’s media scrutiny was mainly soaked up by Peter Garrett’s problems with roof insulation.
But following the Sunday Herald-Sun revelation that he went skiing with Channel Seven chief Kerry Stokes shortly before handing out $250 million to the TV stations it means he’ll at least be continuing in his role as best supporting stuff-up.
Political cliché that it is, Conroy’s decision to hang out with Stokes on the slopes goes to the Minister’s judgment and it’s that judgment Kevin Rudd must really be beginning to question.
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In the past few months we have seen the highs and lows of our relationship with China on display.
Firstly we saw Australia avoid recession largely because of the strong demand by China for Australia’s resources.
Then we saw a series of diplomatic incidents including the arrest of Australian businessman Stern Hu on grounds which are yet to become clear. In addition it appears the Chinese Government has taken proactive action to show their displeasure at Australia for granting a visa to Chinese dissident leader Rebiya Kadeer.
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July and August have seen a lot of activity around the new National Broadband Network (NBN). Three Tasmanian towns will be the first linked in the network that will eventually stretch all the way around Australia. The Prime Minister has likened the NBN project to the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
The plan is for the NBN to bring 100 megabits of data, per second, to 90% of Australian homes - right to the front door - which is very different to today’s broadband experience. Actually, it’s a bit like trading up from a ride-on lawn mower to a sports car.
Politics and the economic and technical hurdles of building such a national network aside, super-fast broadband will deliver economic and social benefits. And risks.
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