Broadband innovation needs cooperation, not endless fibre talk

Summary:Australia doesn't need the ultimate in hyper-fast broadband to innovate; merely ubiquitous access to solid speeds at a fair price, and the willingness to just get on and do it.

The phrase "ubiquitous high-speed broadband" cropped up more than once as Anne Hurley, NBN Co's general manager for stakeholder engagement, welcomed us to the launch of ng Connect Australia and New Zealand in Sydney on Wednesday evening — that's an Alcatel-Lucent-backed program to foster innovation by linking up businesses and other organisations that can help each other — and rightly so.

The fabulous fibres will be the nervous system and the arteries and veins of our glorious digital future. Whoever doesn't have them will be not just disadvantaged, but dead.

Only the ignorant would claim that anything other than optical fibre can deliver the ever-increasing broadband capacity to match our ever-increasing need for speed. Tell such people about the Dunning-Kruger effect and the Shannon-Hartley theorem, then shove them into the nearest canal.

Only the ignorant would claim that anything other than optical fibre can deliver the ever-increasing broadband capacity to match our ever-increasing need for speed.

Australia is one of the richest nations in the world, but when it comes to internet speeds, we've dropped from being in third place globally in the mid-1990s to 15th or lower in the mid-2000s, to somewhere down past 40th place today. A bit of catching up is in order, and personally, I reckon we can afford to do it it. Or, rather, we can't afford not to do it.

"Fibre all the things!", I say.

But NBN Co's fibre-to-the-premises rollout hasn't been happening as quickly as planned — to say the least. That needs to be fixed. If using a different technological mix delivers a decent speed hike to most people more quickly, provided the numbers add up, then so be it. Politics, and the delivery of government services, are about compromise. If the fibre-fundies can't see that, and can't see when a plan starts failing to meet targets and must be adjusted, well, it's the canal for them, too.

And it's the canal for any tedious political tribalists who can't see the words "if" and "provided" in the preceding paragraph.

Broadband innovation is about the bandwidth being ubiquitous, not the technology used, said Sean O'Halloran, managing director of Alcatel-Lucent Australia.

And as Kate Cornick, director of industry engagement and innovation at the University of Melbourne, said, "The debate about broadband innovation keeps getting dragged back to the technical discussion about speed and fibre rather than what we're doing about it."

If the fibre-fundies can't see that, and can't see when a plan starts failing to meet targets and must be adjusted, well, it's the canal for them, too.

Ng Connect is a doing-something-about-it kind of program.

The brochure is sprinkled with all the words: Next generation, infrastructure, synergy, end to end, ecosystem, cloud centric, accelerated, enrich. A buzzword drinking game would be liver destroying. There's even a photo of an attractive and intelligent-looking woman conjuring up meaningless diagrams with a touch of her finger, so you just know it's about the future.

But beyond these tired clichés, ng Connect has the potential to encourage the development of a business community supportive of innovation — one of the four precursors Cornick listed as necessary for a culture of innovation. The others are a research community, an angel investor community, and the infrastructure to collaborate and communicate with customers and suppliers.

Speakers at the launch pointed to the examples of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the rollout of gigabit fibre to the entire city has led to an inrush of investment, and the Gigatown competition in New Zealand, in which towns are currently battling to get the same gigabit treatment.

But even though her university is part of The Parkville Precinct, a collaboration focused on healthcare, research, and education, Cornick said there doesn't need to be a geographical focus — and that'll help ng Connect avoid becoming the disaster that was South Australia's Multifunction Polis.

"We should forget about making a city [with] the title to become the next 'best thing'," Cornick told ZDNet.

"We should just get on and create the ecosystem, and make sure that we get all the settings right internally, which [are] about the entrepreneurs, the researchers, the businesses, and the collaboration. And if we get that right, we don't need to worry about what we're going to be in 10 years' time; we get on and do it now."

Yes, a bit of good old Australian getting on and doing it. I'm all for that.

Topics: NBN, Australia, Broadband

About

Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust. He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit tr... Full Bio

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