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Tuesday, 14 February 2017 12:09

Somebody forgot to tell pollies that NBN is pro-business Featured


There is a notion in the minds of many who are in positions of power in this country that the Internet is a distraction, not something to be taken seriously. This is despite the fact that the very sign of network outage tends to get the blood pressure rising in boardrooms.

That's why those who are literally obsessed about data speeds and concerned that Australia is slowly slipping into the past and becoming a digital joke are treated as some kind of freak. The disdain was best expressed by a former communications minister, Richard Alston, who was convinced that those who wanted fast connections were slavering for better porn.

That was, of course, in the days of John Howard, one of those who must take prime blame for the fact that many people around the country often have to wait for audio and video to sync when they are doing something so mundane on the Internet as watching a YouTube video.

It is precisely this kind of attitude that has reduced the NBN to a kind of sideshow. Our beloved Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can talk till he is blue in the face about how technology can make our lives better. Talk, as they say, is cheap.

Every day, millions of Australians grumble as they crawl out of bed in the wee hours, pull on their clothes and set off for work. Those who drive, spend a good amount of the time cursing the traffic and with good reason, too Those who use public transport have to put up with overcrowded systems that often run late. Plus over-enthusiastic ticket inspectors who would have been better employed as professional bullies.

A sizeable number of these people, who pull up stumps at home where they have a computer/laptop setup very similar to what they have at work, and then go to their offices and plonk themselves down, could easily avoid the stress of travelling, cut down on generating petrol fumes, and sit in their homes and work. But they can't – the network access they have is pathetic. And they can't afford better connections.

For a small percentage, a better connection is promised but never delivered. That 100/40 NBN connection delivers nothing near those numbers. So all these folk wend their way to their offices, where network access is better. Or even if it isn't, they can't be blamed for not being able to deliver on time.

The fact that travel and congestion would be substantially reduced if Australia had a decent NBN does not register with someone like our beloved Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce who, sometime back, was bleating to anyone who would listen that nobody needed anything more than a 25/5 NBN connection.

I mentioned briefly the last time I touched on this topic about a friend who had to transfer audio files he wanted to move across to his workplace by putting them on a USB drive and driving to his workplace. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

There are data scientists who need to share massive files, gigs and gigs of data. There are film editors who need to shift gigabytes too. And don't forget the systems administrators who are looking after servers halfway around the world, many of them using remote applications that bring in a whole GUI caboodle in. (The minority use command-line interfaces).

There are mothers who need to check in on their bubs via an Internet-connected babycam. There are security employees who need to monitor numerous premises, again via digital devices. There are people who are on support for IT functions on the weekend, a time when the network can get really congested and even connecting to a site via SSH is painful.

But this is the tip of the iceberg too. Digital technology touches every aspect of our lives and the Internet has become just another utility, like water, gas and electricity. Imagine a day when only drops of water came out from your taps. Or a day when you could only get 190 volts. Or a day when the gas just refused to flow.

The quality of the lives of all these people would be much better if data moved at a decent rate, if they did not have to tear their hair out in frustration on noticing that a file transfer would take three hours.

In short, businesses are being screwed by lackadaisical politicians who will swear on anything you place before them that their focus is jobs, jobs, jobs. Some of these politicians will draft policy to give companies tax cuts but cannot think beyond raw currency and realise that their political shenanigans have reduced the NBN, that one facility that can boost business no end, to a joke.

One of our many erudite commentators, the good Lord bless them, pointed out a few days back that in 2011, the Internet industry was worth $50 billion (more than agriculture); in 2015, it was worth $79 billion annually (5.1% of GDP). And by 2020, wrote Charles, it was expected to hit $139 billion (7.3% of GDP). All figures taken from Deloitte.

So you'd think: surely our politicians can read? Surely they can see? Surely they have some sense of awareness that every day digital communications are becoming more and more important? Surely they have some kind of education? Surely their only intention in getting elected is not to _only_ feather their own beds?

And then realisation will slowly dawn that you are quite far off the mark.


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Sam Varghese

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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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