Aust comms body looks at possible futures

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) presented the preliminary report of its project "Vision 2020: Future Scenarios for the communications industry" to the ACIF/ACA Self-Regulation Summit in Sydney today, posing five possible developments for Australia's communications industry.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) presented the preliminary report of its project "Vision 2020: Future Scenarios for the communications industry" to the ACIF/ACA Self-Regulation Summit in Sydney today, posing five possible developments for Australia's communications industry.

The project was launched in December of 2003 with the aim of narrating the possible conditions of the communications industry in the year 2020 to provoke strategic options for future regulation, according to the ACA.

Senior ACA policy adviser, Belinda Lester said the project has evolved through stages of literature research and interviews, workshops, international consultations with US, Europe, Japan and Hong Kong and has involved nearly 200 people so far.

Lester said the preliminary findings are now available for public comment and evaluation on the ACA's Web site until the 17th of September, with the final report due in December this year.

The preliminary report posed five possible scenarios for the future of the communications industry in Australia, that Lester said are designed to "challenge current assumptions and develop new insight" but not, however, to predict the future.

The first possible scenario for the Australian communications industry was titled the "Sensitive new age future". Lester described the scenario as having an "environment of seamless connectivity, global networks and open standards that allow full interoperability in global markets."

The report states that in this circumstance "wired local access technology has become redundant, replaced by open, ubiquitous wireless networks". It describes an optimistic future "resulting from a favourable combination of private, public and individual self-reliance with a minimal role for government".

"It is an internationally orientated and flexible Australian economy, supported by technological optimism," said Lester.

The second scenario described by Lester, titled "Big Daddy", depicts a future of "realised technological possibilities", which includes quantum computing and a "refined human machine interface".

"Communications and commerce have converged, with multiple service offerings through aggregation," states the report. "The network is dominated by a few players."

This scenario is influenced by a highly "interventionist and protectionist government" that has swayed the development of the national technical communications system, according to Lester, causing Australians to compromise their levels of personal privacy.

"Communications technologies are highly pervasive, with people only realising the true reach of these applications after they are in place," states the report.

Lester added that this scenario will present "generational conflict" between the older generation that are "not willing to let go of their privacy" and the younger generation who were "chipped at birth".

Scenario three, "Nano-boomers", focuses on the "social consequences of a fragmented global technical communications infrastructure and unrealised technological potential" according to the report.

"The communications environment is converged, wireless and highly pervasive, but with poor service industry/delivery performance, particularly in the verification of information," the report says.

In this scenario the lines between virtual and reality are also blurred, according to Lester, leading to "different forms of social interaction and degrees of connection" where individuals have "virtual identities" that they can redefine as they wish, creating a "highly volatile sector".

"Marching into the future", the fourth scenario, describes an environment of "rapid pace of change, underpinned by national priorities", according to the Vision 2020 report, in which government, industry and consumers recognise the benefits of communication technologies.

The report states that "there is a stable Australian economy, with attractive financial and business development options that give industry great freedom to focus is on developing 'killer applications".

Lester adds that this scenario would "put Australia on the receiving end of a brain drain", "create near ubiquitous broadband access", with consumers having a "high trust" in the system. However, she warns that it would also result in "consumer protection vulnerabilities".

The fifth scenario titled "You can lead a horse to water" describes the communication industry in 2020 as being highly turbulent and "driven by geopolitical instability", the report states.

"Communications technologies are highly focussed in certain sectors, namely national security and law enforcement through surveillance and monitoring."

It dictates a communications sector that is "dominated by large global companies that are hard to regulate from a national perspective", according to the report, with reliable niche markets emerging driven by a "measure-counter-measure approach".

Lester adds that there is "little trust" from consumers and a "culture of fear" in scenario five of the communications industry.

However, concluding Lester said "the likely future won't look like any of one these [scenarios] but it will probably take aspects from each of them."

Paul Roberts, futures panel coordinator for the ACA, said that the next seven years will be a period of transition for the communications industry and will present challenges of "balancing legacy framework while adapting to new technology."

He also said that the future will present a conflict between opportunities and risks, with consumers forced to "trade-off" certain liberties (such as privacy) for the sake of convenience and security.

"Communication may be something that you do [in the future], not something that you buy," he said. "It's all likely to have quite a significant social impact."


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