Thursday, 14 May 2015 13:25

Why streaming services will not end piracy Featured

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COMMENT With the arrival of Netflix in Australia, there have been suggestions that people no longer have a valid reason to indulge in unauthorised downloading of movies. Such reasoning is short on logic.

There are now at least three such streaming services in Australia, if one counts Stan and Presto as well. But proponents of the idea that downloading from the internet will die are forgetting that the delivery mechanism is as important as the availability of material.

In short, we lack the bandwidth to take advantage of streaming services, even in low-res versions.

Due to a combination of prejudice and ignorance, the Australian governments since the 1990s have failed to realise that a great many businesses can be built based on a fast pipe. Indeed, one of our communications ministers of that era, Richard Alston, was convinced that one of the major reasons people wanted bigger pipes to their houses was to download pornography.

I live in Doncaster, a suburb of Melbourne that could hardly be described as rundown. Yet there are times when, during rainy weather, I have difficulty watching a video on YouTube. The copper that brings the internet to my house stretches for something like four kilometres from the exchange and it is not in the best condition.

Content is all very good but one has to deliver the bits and bytes to the people in their various locales; for that one needs broad pipes, the bigger the better. ADSL is not going to be the solution, not given the bandaged copper available for use.

Cable is a temporary solution. At the start,when one is the lone subscriber in a street, things are fine. The data gushes in like water through a storm-pipe. The moment others get on to the same cable provider, it all slows down.

The solution to this is a broadband network — not fraudband — with plenty of bandwidth, and I've heard that something like that is being built. But it is too little and too late; with the bandwidth compromises that have been made, Australia has dealt itself out of a future when all video will arrive in ultra-high definition. Hell, with Malcolm Turnbull's hybrid network we will struggle to even watch anything in normal resolution.

The building of a national broadband network was put off at the time when there was plenty of spare cash floating around. Those were the days of the Howard government, when the resources boom kicked in. During the years when John Howard and Peter Costello were busy bribing middle-class voters to ensure their re-election — remember the baby bonus and health insurance rebates? — something close to half-a-trillion dollars was reaped off the minerals that this country sold.

Yet not a word was spoken about a broadband network, apart from the words of wisdom from Alston that I have cited earlier. We could have had fibre to the home twice over. Or even thrice. But when a government is led by politicians with the imagination of a dead lettuce, those whose vision of tomorrow is yesterday, digital infrastructure is the last thing that will be built.

Leave that alone, they did not even think of using some of that money to build train services to the airports in the major Australian cities that lack them. An indication of the way they fooled people is that Howard today is regarded as one of the better prime ministers this country has had.

When Kevin Rudd came to power, there was more money than ever coming in. But he was confronted by the antics of those on Wall Street aka the GFC and overreacted; as a result much money was wasted on rorts like the home insulation scheme. There was a foolish attempt to provide laptops to all students, even though there is no empirical study to show that laptops help in education.

And now we have Turnbull and his hybrid network. When his supporters talk about it, they never fail to slip in a reference to the fact that Turnbull was part of OzEmail. They forget that he was on the business side, not the technical side. He knows much less than his supporters give him credit for.

So those who cannot wait, will continue to look for the latest movies on the web and download them. Avoiding detection is child's play.

It's all a wasted opportunity. Those who have the money and live in built-up areas close to the city can get fast internet. That fits in well with the thinking of both major political parties. The rest of us will have to watch the spinning wheel as the system keeps buffering every time we try to watch a streaming video and think of England. Or perhaps Australia.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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