Thursday, 18 April 2013

The NBN is ALMOST here in Palmerston via Gungahlin


NBN Co in Palmerston via Gungahlin
As luck would have it, the NBN is arriving in Palmerston via Gungahlin this very moment. Not surprisingly, however, it is somewhat too late and I am not sure if I will bother renegotiating a contract any time soon.

Following the Minister for Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy's statement in Gungahlin just a little while ago, I expected that we would miss out by a street or two. But yesterday morning, while getting ready for work, the sound of workers "communicating" outside my bedroom window was a surprise. I had seen some workers from a telecoms contractor some time ago trying to locate the Telstra pits nearby. I didn't hold my breath in anticipation of the NBN. But there they were: NBN Co. workers just a few metres away!

One of the issues that has long concerned me about the NBN is how it will affect individual consumers. A few years back, the services in Palmerston were terrible. Indeed, they are still so bad in parts that the local doctor cannot connect to Medicare's Online Services. All Palmerston Medical Centre patients, including the elderly,  must go to the Medicare office in Gungahlin to collect their Medicare refunds.

But one thing is for sure: the NBN is coming to Palmerston via Gungahlin. And it is happening right now! The activity in the local neighbourhood (I saw at least half a dozen workers today) proves it.

NBN Co. workers outside my bedroom window 17 April
Whether the NBN will be a political win for the government remains another story.

I have long advocated for a market-based approach to telecommunications infrastructure, based on my research comparing Canada's decentralised policy approach with Australia's command-and-control model. The command and control approach is slower and it leaves everyone wondering what is happening. Hardly the perfect consumer information  of first year economics texts. 

What I am particularly concerned about is that government control of the NBN will hinder the ongoing development of a vibrant communications sector in Australia. The project to privatise, deregulate and enable a market-based communications industry started decades ago has been beset by problems and I don't believe that NBN is a solution. Communications infrastructure should be beyond politics and the NBN just keeps it there. This is a backward step.

Public ownership brings all sorts of political problems. Now with the Coalition's alternative broadband policy being released, communications infrastructure has been cast back into politics. While the Coalition's policy goes some way to minimising the ALP's extreme government control approach, it doesn't solve all the problems.

And communications remains a political football. Indeed, the Minister for Broadband has even accused The Telegraph of being "anti-NBN". Maybe if the government's proposed media regulations go ahead then Senator Conroy will be able to ensure that all newspapers agree with him. It's a pity the Internet Filter was scrapped, too, or the federal government could have ensured that everybody behaved appropriately online. Of course, I jest.
NBN Co comes to Palmerston via Gungahlin
But while I jest, my point is that Australian governments are control freaks when it comes to communications policy. This does not auger well for our future. Indeed, whether the NBN will assist the digital economy by excising digital infrastructure from the digital economy is a debate that has not really begun. Surely we must also ask ourselves: Do we really need ever-so-fast broadband?

While waiting for the NBN in Palmerston via Gungahlin (which seems to have been coming here for years), Telstra's services have improved so much that I have been happy with the ADSL service we have had for almost one year now. After trying many alternatives including an expensive wireless service (with a dismal 15GB download limit wireless service), I am rather happy with the price of our current 500GB download limit which consistently delivers around 8mbps. I have no problems watching movies via our XBox, using the Net via multiple computers over Wi-Fi, streaming music or video, or teaching university classes online.

The big issue for me in Palmerston via Gungahlin is public transport. If the buses ran a little later on weekends and ran every half-hour instead of every hour, and didn't double the travel time to Belconnen by going via Gungahlin first, I probably wouldn't need a car at all. I bet it wouldn't cost as much as rolling out fibre in the area either.

Yet while the different levels of government play politics within their own jurisdictions, citizens don't really have a say in what is important and what is not. The "greening"effect of the NBN couldn't possibly provide a better return on investment in reducing carbon emissions than improved public transport could. The benefits would be immediate for the citizens of Palmerston via Gungahlin, but that certainly wouldn't interest Mr Conroy.
Broadband: The Holden Commodore Version

Put simply, and while the NBN is ALMOST here, I wonder if I even need it now? If it had been here a few years ago, I would have paid almost anything. Now, however, it seems that the market has done its job and I wonder if I'll bother to change over to the NBN when it is available?

Regrettably, if the NBN costs me any more than I pay now, I really cannot see the point. It might help me to steam HD videos better, but I'd be a whole lot happier contributing to a better public transport system.


Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Le Flâneur Politique by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at politicalscience.com.au. Background image ©Depositphotos.com/ @redshinestudio