Friday, October 22, 2010

NBN Is The Future

While it has been reported that just 262 homes in Tasmania have chosen to take up connection to the new National Broadband Network, with claims that this represents just one in ten of those who have the opportunity, that does not mean that the roll out is a failure. The opposition has labelled it as “farcical” and described the roll out rate as “appallingly low”, but that is really a very short-sighted view of the facts. It is also unclear just how many people are prepared to sign up for the full 100 mbps connection speed at $100 a month, as opposed to the cheaper options at $30 or $60 a month for lower speeds. But again, early adoption rates are not necessarily a fair indicator of the long term viability of the network.

Any new technology will take time to permeate the community when it is introduced. When colour televisions were introduced in 1975 not every household rushed out and bought one right away. There would have been a brief period when more people still had black and white sets, but over time the balance changed. Right now we are going through the process of introducing digital television, and while the sets are becoming much more commonplace now, it was only a few years ago that networks were broadcasting digital channels with very few people actually watching them. The internet itself was at first a novelty, and now it is for many people a necessity. To say that an early take up rate of one in ten represents a failure is just nonsensical.

The other concern, about the price, is also a complete red herring. Once again, take a look at all the previous examples of the introduction of new technology. Colour TV’s became less expensive as they became more widespread. Ditto digital TV sets. And only just a few years ago some people were bleating that no-one would ever pay for broadband because it was so much more expensive than dial up. Really? ADSL is now cheaper than dial up used to be. All the while bandwith and speeds have been increasing so that customers are now getting much more for much less. The only problem is that the spine of our telecommunications network is a copper wire system which has been with us for a century and simply will not be capable of doing the job for much longer.

That’s why a fibre optic network IS the future, regardless of whether there is any additional complementary wireless network, or even other technologies we have not yet imagined.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not Very Christian

It’s hard to understand why some religious groups are opposed to the introduction of ethics classes into New South Wales schools. The plan is to offer the classes as an alternative to children whose parents choose not to send them to scripture classes. Currently, such children are left with nothing to do and usually spend the time watching DVDs. The recent ten week trial of the classes has been deemed to be a great success, popular with parents and teachers, and useful in giving students a grasp of ethical and moral behaviour. While those who oppose the classes claim that they are concerned that students who attend religious education will miss out on any benefit that might be obtained from the ethics instruction, I’m not convinced that there isn’t something else on their minds.

Do they mean to suggest that the existing scripture classes are NOT teaching ethical and moral behaviour? Do they want to deny children from families who do not belong to any organised religion the opportunity to benefit from instruction in ethical and moral concepts? Could it be possible that some of the religious organisations who are opposed to these classes are actually more concerned about being undermined in some way in their own moral authority? Do they fear that if parents are given the choice that more of them will choose to have their children given secular instruction on ethics and morality? Or would they really prefer that children from non-religious families are left without the opportunity for any kind of moral or ethical guidance at all?

Surely, that wouldn’t be very Christian, would it?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NBN Plan Provides Certainty For Telstra Shareholders

As the federal election gradually recedes into a distantly faintly remembered past, the minority government is beginning to (excuse me) move forward with its legislative agenda. Today the Prime Minister has announced the reintroduction of legislation for the National Broadband Network. Specifically, the legislation will enforce the structural separation of Telstra, along with measures relating to access to telecommunications services, and consumer protection rules. It is an important component of the government’s plans to deliver high speed broadband to virtually every home in Australia. In doing so, it spells out the future for Telstra, and provides a level of certainty for shareholders.

In fact, if it’s done right, it will be good for Telstra shareholders who for the most part have been on a rollercoaster ride since the company was privatised more than a decade ago. The mums and dads who bought into the company, especially the later tranches, could be forgiven for feeling short-changed by a process which left them owning a piece of a company suffering from declining market share and increasing competition. Many believed that the privatisation process was flawed from the beginning, and that the company should have been structurally separated prior to the initial float in 1997, selling off the retail business, and retaining the wholesale network as a public asset. It’s ironic that the new NBN plan will achieve almost that exact arrangement.

Of course, whether the new network will itself turn out to be good value for money is an entirely different question.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Time For Honesty

Today the parliamentary debate over Australia’s military engagement in Afghanistan gets underway, some say nine years overdue. It is important that the debate not only proceeds, but genuinely addresses the concerns held by so many Australians about the deployment. Perhaps not everyone would agree, but nine years ago the reasons for joining the coalition forces to drive out the Taliban and hunt down Al Qaeda were both valid and compelling. Over time however, United States strategy lost its direction and the decision to also invade Iraq was not only a disaster in itself, but undermined progress in Afghanistan. In time, it became difficult for everyday Australians to understand why the process was taking so long, and despite solid bi-partisan support for the deployment, our political leaders failed to adequately explain the relevance of our continued involvement.

Naturally, every time an Australian soldier died in Afghanistan people would ask why it was necessary. After a while people started asking if it was all in vain. So far it has happened 21 times, and sadly it could happen many more times yet before it is over. That’s why it is vitally important for the Australian people to be told honestly about the justifications for this action. The truth is that it should not have been necessary for the conflict to stretch out for nine years. The truth is that mistakes have been made. But that doesn’t mean that taking action in Afghanistan was itself a mistake. More importantly, having taken that action and pursued this course, it would be a mistake to abruptly abandon the cause and allow Afghanistan and the surrounding region to descend into the kind of instability that led to all these problems in the first place.

That would only mean that the whole effort, and the 21 deaths, really had been in vain.