Libs should have joined Labor's NBN telework love-in

Libs should have joined Labor's NBN telework love-in

Summary: National Telework Week naturally spruiked Labor's NBN vision, but it also highlighted the Coalition's utter lack of vision.

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It may have had a little more similarity to Apple's infamous 1984 commercial than Labor intended, but there was nonetheless lots of excitement — in political terms — at the launch event for National Telework Week (NTW), an entirely theoretical construct that was kicked off with a flurry of high-profile cheerleading, and which eventually tapered off into oblivion, much like the plot of Quantum of Solace or the factual content of an Alan Jones broadcast.

Gillard-1984
(Screenshot by David Braue/ZDNet)

Whether you actually papered you car with NTW bumper stickers, tattooed "working in my daks and loving it" across your back, or simply grabbed your things and told your boss to stick his office job where the sun don't shine, the event was a focal point for a combination of political aspirations, mixed in with a liberal helping of National Broadband Network (NBN) advocacy.

The NBN, we were told for the millionth time, as Labor pollies jumped on the bandwagon, will enable high-quality face-to-face videoconferencing that will make working from home just like working at the office — only without the territorial fights over refrigerator shelf space.

This rhetoric is interesting for several reasons. One is that it represents formal recognition of something that many people have known for years: that, depending on your personality, you can work just effectively from home as you can from the office — more effectively, for many of us.

Even more interesting, however, is the way that telework has become the poster child for the NBN, when companies that are actually teleworking happily point out, over and over, that technology does not a teleworker make.

It's quite possible, after all, to telework with a telephone and a dial-up connection, although of course you wouldn't want to. It's better to use ADSL, it will also work over the Coalition's fibre-to-the-node (FttN) plan, and, of course, it would be the best quality of all over Labor's fibre NBN.

Teleworking, after all, is all about communication, not just immersive videoconferencing — and history has shown that people will find ways to communicate no matter what the technical limitations are of the channels available to them. The people of Westeros, for example, seem to do quite well using a poultry-to-the-premises network, although I do admit that the latency is less than ideal. But they get by, and they adapt their expectations accordingly. Where there's a bill, after all, there's a way.

To telework effectively, do we need face-to-face video? When a phone call will suffice, do we really need to have face-to-face meetings with teleworkers sitting at home in their underwear?

To telework effectively, then, do we actually need face-to-face video? I know workplace-culture experts advise that teleworkers dress up for work and go through all the machinations of their normal working commute — I personally have tried pretending to weave through traffic and shout obscenities out of an imaginary window at other imaginary drivers, albeit with little luck — but when a phone call will suffice, do we really need face-to-face meetings with teleworkers sitting at home in their underwear?

Isn't part of the charm of having colleagues telework the fact that that we don't actually have to see them as much?

Forget saving the environment; perhaps you'd really like to see teleworking introduced for that guy in the next cubicle with the bad BO and obnoxiously loud phone voice.

It does seem a bit ironic — all these billions spent so that we can eject workers from the workplace, then get good-enough-quality video so that we can keep an eye on them throughout the working day. This digital Panopticon is the same kind of surveillance state that's currently afforded to politicians and celebrities — and I'm not convinced that the video alone will make people more productive.

Yet, there is much truth in the drum beating around teleworking: it is a time saver, and it is a productivity enhancer. And you get to work without pants, which is a luxury afforded to only a select few office-bound professions. And, of course, a select few politicians.

Which brings me to my next point: Malcolm Turnbull should've been there.

Because far more than simply catering to Australians' sartorial preferences, the NWT event served to highlight the yawning political chasm around the NBN.

Long-time NBN watchers will know that Labor has been working hard, and not always effectively, to build a use case around its NBN — but, in all this time, not even around obvious tasks like teleworking has the Coalition bothered to elucidate any kind of a vision for a broadband-enabled Australia.

Labor could have videoconferenced Turnbull in over his home internet connection. That kind of jerky video and mismatched sound would have been a sick pleasure to watch — and a reminder of why a properly built NBN is actually going to be helpful for delivering objectives like this.

No; Turnbull has been too busy beating on about the cost of Labor's NBN and promoting digital carrier pigeons as a supposedly viable alternative. Yet, as you step back and look at how Labor is promoting the NBN, exercises like NTW are a significant step forward, because they not only flesh out a viable use case for the NBN, they also commit the government itself to lead by example.

We have not seen this kind of leadership from Malcolm Turnbull, whose idea of an NBN use case is to wave his iPad around, or Tony Abbott, who still seems to think that fibre is something to sprinkle on his morning helping of yoghurt and fruit.

Surely, even if the Coalition disagrees with the medium by which teleworking will be delivered, it cannot disagree with the message? Surely, no matter what your preferred party is, there is great value in reducing the burden of office work — and in facilitating increased inclusiveness within the workforce?

Government use of NBN-enabled telework, we were told at the event, will particularly target disabled workers who have the mind and the will to work, but lack the physical means to get to an office. This is an admirable goal in anyone's books, even if many such people are already able to telework by using existing technologies.

Of course, their ability to do so depends more on the boss' willingness to cede some control than it does on the quality of their videoconferencing connection. But these are little details that can be worked out later on; in the short term, Malcolm Turnbull should have been at the NTW launch to show that the Coalition does, in fact, believe that it is spruiking a broadband policy with more purpose than simply being a me-too oppositional effort to counter Labor's NBN.

Sure, it was Labor's event, but Labor would have benefited by having the Coalition there, because bipartisan support for the teleworking goals would have shown that the government's commitment to teleworking isn't just some left-wing Commie pinko construct — that it also supports teleworking for the huge number of Australians who voted against Labor.

To make proceedings even more fun, Labor could have videoconferenced Turnbull in via Skype from his iPad on his home internet connection. That kind of jerky video and mismatched sound would have been a sick pleasure to watch — and a reminder of why a properly built NBN is actually going to be helpful for delivering objectives like this.

Time and time again, the Coalition has shown that it has absolutely no vision whatsoever for Australia's broadband economy. In arguing the NBN on purely technical and cost bases, the Coalition has completely missed the point that was evident in the fact that Labor bothered to set up NTW at all: The times, they really are a-changing.

Were his party genuinely interested in promoting FttN as a way to improve Australians' lives, Turnbull should have made the case for inclusion in the NTW launch as a show of bipartisanship.

"We support the NTW message even if we don't support Labor's vision for the NBN" would have been an incredibly strong message from Turnbull, but there was nothing from him about NTW except silence. And that, no matter what your sartorial inclinations are, says all you need to know about the parties' differing visions for the NBN.

Topics: Telework, Government AU, NBN, Australia

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Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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14 comments
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  • A LOVE in...was Loverock Davidson invited?

    I can't amagin anyone showing more love for IT than Loverock Davidson.....he's the man
    Over and Out
    • Silly thing to say!

      This is Australia, no Yanks invited!

      Enough Said, wouldn't you say?
      martin_js
  • No Vision

    When it comes to modern telecommunications in Australia, the Coalition is continuing their tired old Howard era tradition of having no idea whatsoever, and a policy of doing absolutely nothing.
    ITenquirer
    • Indeed...

      It is sad that the tech savvy really have no option but to vote against the Coalition. Simply because the Coalition refuse to look forward, invest in the future accordingly and their need to forever pander to the chronically conservative/extremes.

      In 2007 the then Coalition government following the release of their broadband policy (months 'after' the then Labor opposition - now there's a change) were quoted by Kerry O'Brien as saying...

      "The Government will deliver a national broadband network, sooner and cheaper than the Labor plan."

      What are they now saying...?

      "We will deliver a national broadband network, quicker and cheaper than the Labor plan."

      As I mentioned elsewhere, the same old tired rhetoric... BUT they are now using the word "quicker, rather than sooner"... a very sneaky word to use when referring to broadband.

      BTW - I love John Howard's response to - WiMAX/it uses 5.8 GHz - "That's an… Optus?".

      Sad part is, I think JH was a lot more knowledgable (about everything, including comms) and more caring to his "fellow Australian's" than Tony could ever be.

      http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2007/s1954840.htm
      RS-ef540
      • lol, I remember watching that when it aired. This was back when both parties were totally clueless when it came to broadband. Of course the most hilarious part is labors suggestion for a FttN network and the coaltion calling it "fraudband".
        Hubert Cumberdale
  • Not every Tech Savvy geek will vote for Labor and their NBN

    The thought that someone would vote for a party simply because they offer a better internet solution demonstrates a shallowness that beggars belief.

    There are many, much more more pressing matters that I really have no need to innumerate to anyone of average intelligence.

    I consider myself tech savvy, I am a software developer, and I see the 45 billion plus cost figure to be an extroardinary amount to spend on technology when there is so much needed, and quite often ignored, for social welfare as one example and where, according to the opposition, there are less expensive methods of achieving a very similar result.

    I am one of the few that are already on the NBN. Mind you, I am on the NBN satellite and that bears no comparrison to the fibre but, as it turns out, it is also less efficient than Telstra's 3G Pre Paid Mobile wi-fi. The wi-fi is much quicker than the NBN satellite and I am a long way from the nearest tower. The latency in the satellite is almost unbearable.

    However the point to my entry is that you shouldn't vote for a party who will have to manage all of our country's affairs just because you think they offer a better internet solution, they should offer a better future for the entire country not just pander to your geeky desires.
    Gary O'Connor
    • Correlation =/= Causation

      You raise a valid point Gary, a voters decision should rest on more than a single policy. Fundamentally, I agree with you.

      If you take a simplistic view of the situation (FTTN and FTTH both provide fast internet), and your only other concern is cost, then on the face of it, of course the cheaper alternative is better. As I'm sure you'll agree, it's not quite that black and white when you're talking about inter-generational, national infrastructure and the accompanying regulatory framework (which, as an aside, is the reason a cost benefit analysis is a fairly pointless exercise).

      I think RS-ef540 was suggesting that a voter who would make a voting decision on technology policy (alone) couldn't realistically vote for the Coalition. Is this the only consideration? Of course not. But does that influence the overall voting decision in any way? Damn right it does. It's simply a question of the value a voter places on the NBN, or the Coalition alternative, or some other opportunity cost. Let's not forget that the primary reason Labor WON the independents over and by extension, government, was the NBN.

      Also, your $45 Billion+ 'cost' is completely incorrect, but that horse has been flogged to death on here, so I'll just say that it's wrong, and you should research that statement again.
      RealismBias
    • "There are many, much more more pressing matters that I really have no need to innumerate to anyone of average intelligence."

      Pretend your audience consists of Tony Abbott and tell us what they are...




      "I am a software developer, and I see the 45 billion plus cost figure to be an extroardinary amount"

      Wow, a software developer. You've convinced me. I guess I can be considered a software developer too. I don’t see the $30 billion as an extraordinary amount at all. It amounts to about $3 billion per year of the NBN build. The government will spend $131 billion on welfare in just one year and every year totalling $1.3 trillion over the build time of the NBN. Do you consider $1.3 trillion "quite often ignored"?



      "there are less expensive methods of achieving a very similar result."

      So we’ve been told by the coalition too, they are suggesting FttN and claim it will achieve a similar result but up to 50 to 60mbps down and up to 10mbps up VS 100mbps down and 40mbps up is not a very similar result at all. That's without considering future speed requirements too. One "method" will consider that "future" the other will not.



      "that bears no comparrison to the fibre but"

      Notice how you said 'the fibre' implying FttP and not FttN? yep FttP & FttN achieve "very similar results" yet when making your comparison with wireless even you make a distinction between the two. Certainly is telling isn’t it?



      "it is also less efficient than Telstra's 3G Pre Paid Mobile wi-fi."

      And yet you chose a NBN satellite plan. Interesting...




      "The wi-fi is much quicker than the NBN satellite and I am a long way from the nearest tower."

      Do you understand the difference between the two? Perhaps you should compare apples with apples rather than apples with potatoes.




      "they should offer a better future for the entire country"

      Noted.
      Hubert Cumberdale
  • Gary please...

    We will vote for who we wish, for why we wish, and because we wish...

    If that means voting for Labor because they offer the NBN and not the Coalition because their leader is an absolute buffoon (as agreed almost unanimously by the polls) so be it.

    Bring back MT and let's see...

    Sorry to upset the apple cart precious.
    RS-ef540
    • "Bring back MT and let's see..."

      Indeed. Saw him on Q&A last night. Makes a terrible shadow communications minister but would be a much better leader than Abbott.
      Hubert Cumberdale
  • Fascinating responses

    @Anonymous
    I was never suggesting that you should not vote for the Labor party if that's what you want to do, I was simply suggesting that to say you will vote for them on the strength of one single policy is demonstrating a lack of concern for the welfare of the country based on a personal desire.

    'I think RS-ef540 was suggesting that a voter who would make a voting decision on technology policy (alone) couldn't realistically vote for the Coalition.'

    That is exactly what i am talking about. You should never base your voting decision on a single policy.

    If you were to ask me if I thought the Opposition's idea for the internet is better or worse than Labor's NBN based on nothing other than the connection it provides then I might have to concede that Labor's plan is better but, if you were to ask me which would be better for the country I would really have to consider my answer.

    'Also, your $45 Billion+ 'cost' is completely incorrect'

    Alas many of the policies the Labor govt has brought to fruition so far have cost much more than their intitial estimates. As you have said, this point has been well and truly flogged but, on record the chances are it will cost even more than my possibly inflated estiimate.

    @Hubert
    '"There are many, much more more pressing matters that I really have no need to innumerate to anyone of average intelligence."

    Pretend your audience consists of Tony Abbott and tell us what they are...'

    You are, of course kidding aren't you? Or are you admitting to be of less than average intelligence?

    'Wow, a software developer.'
    I only pointed that out because 'RS-ef540' said that any tech savvy person would have no option but to vote against the coalition. I presume that being a computer developer qualifies me as being 'tech savvy' so I pointed that out. I'm truly sorry if that offends you.

    'The government will spend $131 billion on welfare in just one year and every year totalling $1.3 trillion over the build time of the NBN. Do you consider $1.3 trillion "quite often ignored"?'

    Let's just accept that your figures are correct. The nearest estimate I could find was $122 billion p/a so they're not too bad. If you think that money has cleaned up all the welfare needs of the country then your judgement is seriously impaired. Seriously, do you think that we have solved all of our welfare problems? If your answer is no, and it has to be, then we are not spending enough at $131 billion.

    '"it is also less efficient than Telstra's 3G Pre Paid Mobile wi-fi."

    And yet you chose a NBN satellite plan. Interesting...'

    I already had the Telstra's 3G Pre-Paid because I travel a lot and use that when I'm on the road. My house is located in the middle of NSW, in the bush. fibre will never pass the property and ADSL was pathetic, I'm 5ks from the nearest exchange. I jumped at the chance to get the NBN satellite because of all the hype and I thought it would offer a better solution than what I had. Sadly it didn't.

    @RS-ef540
    'We will vote for who we wish, for why we wish, and because we wish'

    And I never suggested you shouldn't, I just suggested that you should actually think about the future of the country and maybe not just how quick your internet connection is, before you make up your mind who to vote for.

    'If that means voting for Labor because they offer the NBN and not the Coalition because their leader is an absolute buffoon (as agreed almost unanimously by the polls) so be it.'

    Wow! Now we know what you actually stand for. Hmmmm. Not a whole lot!

    'Sorry to upset the apple cart precious'

    That's ok baby cheeks, you have a good weekend.
    Gary O'Connor
    • LOL

      Oh dear...
      RS-ef540
  • LOL

    Back at you :)
    Gary O'Connor
  • *sigh*

    Gary if you want to give it... learn to take it.

    Remember it was you who replied to me, in relation to your simplistic understanding of my off the cuff remark about voting choice for the tech savvy - "The thought that someone would vote for a party simply because they offer a better internet solution demonstrates a shallowness that beggars belief.. "

    You then took offence to me saying "we will vote for who we wish" by saying - "And I never suggested you shouldn't, I just suggested that you should actually think about the future of the country and maybe not just how quick your internet connection is, before you make up your mind who to vote for."

    And then, because I still dare disagree with your suggestions, you say - "Wow! Now we know what you actually stand for. Hmmmm. Not a whole lot!"

    *sigh*

    In case your own hypocrisy still isn't clear, let me spell it out in layman's terms, just for you...

    Gary's Law - "If you don't vote like I do, it beggars belief. But I'm not suggesting - I was just suggesting (Gold - Gaz). So if you still don't heed my suggestion (that I wasn't just suggesting) it shows, wow, you don't stand for a whole lot."

    So keep up the great work Gary, because clearly know where you stand and in true anti-NBN, riding up on that high-horse fashion, your hypocritical, contradictory nonsense fits in nicely...!
    RS-ef540