Technology will be everything and nothing in this election

Technology will be everything and nothing in this election

Summary: As Australia prepares to head to the polls, technology will play a central role in the democratic process — but don't expect the NBN to be front and centre.


If you bought tickets to the "Great NBN election policy showdown of 2013", I'm sorry to say that you should head back to the box office and get a refund. This election will be fought on other matters, and barring any major stuff-ups, broadband will be a side issue in the 2013 campaign.

As far as points of difference are concerned, the policies of the major parties are not far apart. This is not the 2010 election, where the Coalition was proposing to scrap the NBN and sell off its assets.

At the time, Labor could go to the electorate and quite rightly claim that it was the only party with a plan for broadband. This time around, the electorate has to decide on what sort of NBN they want.

Should the NBN be built as a more time-consuming and more expensive FttH rollout that will bring higher download speeds? Or should the nation take the quick hit, and get to 25Mbps over the next three years?

In the annals of great policy debates, the current alternative NBN propositions are too similar to rate a mention.

The NBN is no longer under existential threat by the Coalition, therefore what is being debated are implementation details.

It is possible in 2013 to form a coherent argument for the Coalition's NBN plans, even it is still missing the crucial element of a move to a fibre future, which, given the positions previously put up by the Liberal party, is a major contribution to public discourse.

NBN FttH zealots will not like hearing that their issue du jour is being relegated to the electoral backbench, but have no fear: If the FttH zealot's political apocalypse arrives, and Malcolm Turnbull becomes the new minister for Communications, you can still have a fibre connection to your home at a cost.

If an FttH connection is that important to an elector, why wouldn't they stump up the cash to make it so? For a few thousand dollars, the elector could enjoy a modern broadband connection and address one of their highest concerns. To do otherwise would be hypocrisy, and, in connectivity terms, akin to squibbing on the greatest moral challenge of our time.

The other reason that we are unlikely to see an NBN showdown of note is due to the participants concerned.

In the Coalition's corner is one of the most technically adept senior shadow ministers of recent times.

At a Politics in the Pub forum held by the member for Wentworth last week, attendees witnessed a politician who could discuss the issues of online security, surveillance, and communications without resorting to clichés and talking points. There are few members of the parliament who could hold a discussion on whether files inside of a citizen's Dropbox account should be treated the same as a shoebox under the bed, without saying those immortal words: "I am not a tech-head, but...".

Turnbull is fully across the issues of his portfolio, and probably a few others as well, make no mistake about it.

From the Labor side, Turnbull no longer has a single adversary to go up against, but a quartet of ministers charged with selling Labor's outlook. Among them are two junior ministers, in the form of Ed Husic and Kate Lundy, who could discuss the issues as in depth as Turnbull — just do not expect to see it happen.

To send Husic or Lundy into the ring to face off against Turnbull would be like the Coalition sending its minister for regional communications, Luke Hartsuyker, up against Anthony Albanese. Although these two match-ups would be more equivalent in terms of technical process, the simple rule remains that junior ministers do not go head-to-head against senior ministers in debates — and nor should they.

Albanese has already exposed his knowledge gap in the technical arena when he admitted that he is "not a tech head" only days after adding the Communications portfolio to his remit.

Labor has fallen foul of needing to find a quick fix for the portfolio, after its previously well-established minister, Stephen Conroy, resigned as a consequence of Kevin Rudd returning to the prime ministership.

While Albanese is a proven parliamentary performer, and clearly well regarded by his peers, as his recent elevation to the role of deputy prime minister shows, his performance on the July 8 instalment of ABC's Q&A left a lot to be desired, and starkly showed the knowledge gap between Turnbull and Albanese.

It is not surprising that Turnbull's call for an NBN debate with Albanese has been met with silence.

Albanese is simply not up to speed enough to take the fight to Turnbull, like we saw Conroy do in a Google Hangout in May.

Labor can also continue to deny the Coalition the NBN debate it wants, as long as Tony Abbott is refusing to give Kevin Rudd the series of debates that the prime minister is after.

For the next few weeks, expect to see both sides of politics sniping at each other through the media; for Labor, it is a safer place to debate Turnbull.

This election has greater issues to deal with than whether a home will receive a 25Mbps FttN connection or a 100MBps FttH connection: The economy is in transition, Rudd's carbon tax/ETS versus Abbott's green army response to climate change, which paid parental scheme the nation wants, and the asylum seeker situation.

As much as I would love to have 1Gbps fibre connections hooked up across the country, the economic and climate change debates trump the short-term needs of better connectivity.

Where technology is going to play a major, if not sickening, role in this election is in the field of social media.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, even Google+ — you name the social network, it will be covered in electioneering of all types.

A cursory glance at the PM's Instagram account tells the story for the next five weeks: Hard hats, stage management, and meeting the nation. In a page from the Obama playbook, even the prime ministerial spouse got in on the act yesterday.

This should hardly be surprising, as Rudd last week called in a trio of Obama strategists.

"All three have played key roles in Barack Obama's US presidential election campaigns using sophisticated social media and field operations," reported AAP.

Expect to see wall-to-wall social media promotion from all the parties. It's shaping up as the closest thing that many of us will come to living through an American presidential election.

Technology as a policy has already been covered, we've all had four months to digest the Coalition's NBN plans, but technology as a medium, that's just getting started, and it is only going to ramp up from here.

For the next five weeks, strap yourself in, put the cat out, and make sure you have a healthy collection of your stiffest drink on hand — we are about to be hit with a deluge of social media like never before.

Topics: Government AU, NBN, Social Enterprise


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


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  • Another News LTD rant!

    More unintelligible, uninformed bullshit from an Ipadder.
    It's quite clear that there is a substantial technical difference in the two parties proposal making your statement, "In the annals of great policy debates, the current alternative NBN propositions are too similar to rate a mention" a pile of baloney.
    Firstly the cost of the NBN is recovered from sales of the product and is not being funded by a taxpayer impost as the dishonest campaign from your suggested "adept Mr Turnbull" is constantly telling us.
    Mr Turnbull has not at any stage released the costs of extending fibre to the home for his proposed system, and Telstra's cost estimates to extend fibre to my home from the fibre cable 15 meters from my front gate far exceeds Malcolm's proposed 5 grand. The exorbitant fees and charges that his model BT Infinity charges are unacceptable to the Australian public and serious disadvantage renters, pensioners.
    Kevin Cobley
    • "Too similar to rate a mention"

      Yeah Right!
      They're about as similar as comparing one lane to 2 lane bridges on a 100KPH/Mbps highway.
      Even at Turnbull's reduced speeds we still need equal traffic flow in BOTH directions, not a traffic upload bottleneck at every FTTN bridge.
      Not much point in paying extra for a FTTP connection or even having 25Mbps if my data source can only upload it to me at 5Mbps or less.
      Might as well remain on my existing ADSL rather than pay the higher charges that will be required to cover the running costs of Turnbull's FTTN Fridges.
  • Good article

    But I do take issue with this comment:

    "If an FttH connection is that important to an elector, why wouldn't they stump up the cash to make it so?"

    I guess you could argue that in its most distilled form, a vote should be used by an individual to maximise the benefit to his or her self for any given policy (which, incidentally, has led us to the mess where a massive transfer of wealth to boomers has been at the expense of almost every other section of the electorate, but that's another debate). Generally speaking, I think FTTH evangelists can see the benefits of fiber being available to all (or, at least, as many as possible) which will be a catalyst for innovation and (previously impossible) business opportunities.

    The individualistic 'whats in it for me' notion of fiber being available only to those who can afford it completely disregards the ubiquitous NBN vision which is fundamentally essential to the transition to a knowledge based economy, which is what we should collectively be aiming for (regardless of ones political leanings).

    I disagree that the Coaltions policy has blunted the argument for a FTTH based NBN. As has been pointed out time and again on here and elsewhere, there are too many unanswered questions around the technical implementation of FTTN (ie the state and gauge of copper pairs, etc) whereas fiber is far and away the proven, technically correct choice for a long term infrastructure build like this.

    In terms of telecoms policy, the election is a choice between progressive, future proof infrastructure and paying $30 billion dollars worth of lip service to keep aged infrastructure running for a few more years. The NBN lost the last election for the Coalition, so it's quite a leap of logic to assume its any less important this time around.
    • They won't stump up

      "If an FttH connection is that important to an elector, why wouldn't they stump up the cash to make it so? For a few thousand dollars, the elector could enjoy a modern broadband connection and address one of their highest concerns"

      They want others to pay for their connection!

      Great article; entertaining and two-sided (watch the leftoids squeal). More please...
      Richard Flude
      • A soulmate!

        You've found a soulmate who as technically illiterate as you! Maybe you could get together for a game of soggy biscuits. Don't worry, you are still our favourite narcissist troll :)
      • Richard the master of Bull***

        Coalition states NBN will cost $94bn, absolute garbage.
        In the USA, Goldman Sachs did a report showing that it would cost $140bn to cover ALL of USA with fibre to the home.
        (Thats over 114 million homes, 10 times more homes than Australia)
        Also Verizon USA spent $15bn to cover 17 million homes with fibre to home. (Australia only has 12 million homes)
        The Coalition deserves to lose the election over all these lies about the NBN and there own plan.
        Carl Hansen
        • BS indeed

          The coalition reasons for $94b is explained in their modelling. It was their worst case scenario. I suggest you read the document.

          The Goldman Sachs report your refer to was titled "Still bullish on cable, although not blind to the risks", and said "the price tag would be over $140 billion". It was dismissive of Google capacity to fund such a venture.

          Verizon budgeted capex USD717 per premise, NBNCo current performance and budgeted connection costs are minimum 3x this amount. Using Verizon cost figures for Australia is ludicrous.

          Note to AA:
          "If you've been paying attention you know that Google Fiber was never intended to be a nationwide effort, and Google has no intention of becoming a national ISP. "

          Richard Flude
  • What a bull Point Richard

    How about
    - Telephone to the home
    - Power to the home
    - Roads to the home
    - Sanitation to the home
    - Water to the home

    I don't see anyone crying about "Someone else paying for it", All the basic infrastructure listed above requires some to pay more while others pay a little less for the connection. Imagine if the government didn't get involved in the development of this infrastructure. Our economic productivity would be up the SH*T.

    The internet is now an essential part of our society and we need high speed SYNCRONUS connections to assist with this essential service.

    Industry has highlighted that the demand for high speed internet is a must and will be required before the next election (before you have a whinge Richard they have been provided copious times during these discussions so feel free to google cisco for one white paper of many released on the subject.
    • Sorry

      Telstra isn't private, nor AGL, International Power, citylink, etc. Private companies could never do infrastructure. Good one;-)

      Please highlight the report showing the productivity benefits of fibre to residences of 95% of Australians exceeding the min $44b.
      Richard Flude
      • Typical version of truth.

        All you mention were originally Government departments who provided the core infrastructure and connections. Who were then privatised.
        Abel Adamski
        • Citylink was a govt debt?

          Private firms are increasingly used to deliver infrastructure because of the failings of the govt departments historically.
          Richard Flude
    • I do everything myself

      Sorry Yettie79, but I'm self-sufficient in all those areas and proud of it.

      - Telephone to the home: I just yell at the television and trust my message gets out there.
      - Power to the home: Paraffin lamps and a bicycle-mounted laptop powered by dynamo
      - Roads to the home: Don't use 'em, instead I jump my neighbours' fences
      - Sanitation to the home: Slop bucket.
      - Water to the home: Bucket out the window.
  • Completely misses the point....

    "If an FttH connection is that important to an elector, why wouldn't they stump up the cash to make it so? For a few thousand dollars, the elector could enjoy a modern broadband connection and address one of their highest concerns. To do otherwise would be hypocrisy, and, in connectivity terms, akin to squibbing on the greatest moral challenge of our time."

    Chris, your emotive rhetoric about FTTH completely misses the point - the main advantage of the current NBN is ubiquity. 93% will have equivalent fibre connections. The more people that have them, the better connecting with each other works. Turnbulls plan on the other hand provides a patchwork of fibre, copper, HFC, all hamstrung by the inadeqaucies of the lowest common denominator. The copper will be shortened by nodes added to nodes, adding many more points of failure to the network. It also will require much more mone,y and effort to get to the FTTP solution that the current NBN will provide, and is widely agreed - even by Turnbull -to be the ultimate goal.

    Your misrepresentation of that the FTTH "zealots" want really puts a massive flaw in your whole article. By ignoring the bigger picture of what they are actually arguing for. When you look at it from the ubiquity angle, you can easily see there are substantial differences in the 2 policies.
  • Oh really?

    "As much as I would love to have 1Gbps fibre connections hooked up across the country, the economic and climate change debates trump the short-term needs of better connectivity."

    We've now slumped behind Mexico in terms of average broadband speeds in developed nations. YOU would like to spend $8b LESS NOW for the short term i.e. still foot nearly 79% of the bill, then re-do it all later when we discover we fall behind underdeveloped nations also?

    100Mbps is not a short term view. Other countries are already doing this. 25 is extremely short sighted. (if we can even get this because I can almost guarantee the majority will not over the old copper).

    Mate, part of what I do is install security systems. Most people need these remotely monitored. With 1Mp IP cameras being pretty much a minimum with at least 2Mbps feed, we CURRENTLY CANNOT implement remote viewing except by dropping the resolution of the stream to a paltry 640x480 at about 300kbps. You can see movement, but cannot see any detail about what you are looking at. With the 25Mbps Coalition plan, there is NO GUARANTEE, but at best I expect 1-5Mbps. So two streams maybe. Too bad as most customers I deal with have at least 4-6 cameras.

    Under Labor - I can already get 40Mbps, and possibly more after the 1Gbps comes in. 20 streams of 1Mbps footage.

    That is not to mention some of the 5Mp cameras becoming available with 360 degree views.

    Can we get over this "we don't need it" attitude. You guys have NO IDEA.

    Go sit back on your so called minimum 25Mbps (yeah right) connections when Liberals are in and watch your HD YouTube stream.

    How about we leave the real debate about what is actually needed to the businesses that are being bottlenecked and floundering under current broadband and will remain so under Liberal.

    There IS a big need. Security is just one example. Businesses ARE being hurt by the crap state of broadband. Believe it.
    • Spot on

      I fully agree.
      The H264 compression used to compress the signal loses so much detail, especially with infra red night vision. We all see the vision on the crime and police shows/reports
      I have been forced to use a computer based auxillary recorder using Mpeg2 triggered by alternative sensors for key areas, using the motion triggered digital system as background info.

      With Higher Data transmission available along with higher capacity data storage which are available now and even using SSD as large buffers, allowing for 10, 20 or 30 sec pre record. Improved systems will become available, not worth developing or marketing them for the small business or domestic market which would hugely reduce the price as the upload is inadequate and will continue to be under the FTTN/HFC option
      Abel Adamski
  • FTTN costs the same, recovers less revenue than FTTH = FTTN fail

    Turnbull has come a long way! All those late nights railing in tax-funded parliament against the NBNCo's 7% wireless and satellite footprint for non-urban dwellings, the objective to build fibre to all urban premises by the 2020s, and to fund the project off-budget from user revenue, all of which he has now adopted in their entirety. Except that he won't build fibre to existing premises.

    Surely we must test his acceptance of the off-budget user-pays funding model. Does it work for FTTN?

    The basis of adopting a reheated 2005 Telstra project is entirely about cost and time, he claims. Turnbull makes much of a mythical $29 billion FTTN vs $94 billion FTTP construction cost. He makes FTTN sound cheaper, but if it actually costs the same to build, and if total customer revenue is less than for FTTP, then FTTN become dearer, not cheaper.

    By now, everyone except Foxtel-owning News Ltd (and Kevin Morgan) agrees that FTTN will actually cost much more than $29 billion, because Turnbull omitted so many actual costs, and some are unquantifiable.

    Meanwhile, as verified by numerous public audits of the NBN since 2010, FTTP will cost about what we thought. $40-50 billion is the cost, whether we build FTTN or FTTP for all urban premises.

    For $40-50 billion, every urban home and business gets 25/5 Mbps on one copper pair, or unlimited two-way bandwidth on up to four fibre ports (currently 1000/400 Mbps). Remember that Turnbull's 2019 boost to 50/10 speeds is not costed, nor his gigabit claims of this week, which would quadruple his refrigerated node count to 4 x 60,000 at 100 m maximum distances.

    Fibre will get higher takeup than copper, and will generate higher revenue per user.

    NBN FTTP takeup rates at 12 months are already much higher than forecast, and speeds are skewed to the top end, conclusively proving that user-pays works for FTTP, even in regional areas. A critical part of the remaining takeup is the deliberate commercial buyout of HFC and copper from Optus and Telstra, liberating them from high maintenance and upgrade costs, and delivering more customers onto superior fibre. Everyone wins, telcos, customers, and the taxpayer. There is no unfunded construction cost for FTTP.

    FTTN will quickly suffer from losing its speed advantage over mobile broadband, and the retention of copper and HFC. All of these will reduce takeup. Each copper service is capable of less than fibre. This will not make a difference to revenue from entry-level custoemrs, but will prevent the revenues ramping up from higher-need customers.

    Fewer customers x Lower revenue per customer = FTTN fails on cost recovery.

    Why on earth is this man promoting a more costly and inferior broadband construction project? He must have a lucrative Telstra board position or something. It makes no sense whatever.

    This devotional article is really rather silly, from a columnist who surely knows it to be a nonsense.
  • Pity our economic future is not actually being adressed

    "This election has greater issues to deal with than whether a home will receive a 25Mbps FttN connection or a 100MBps FttH connection: The economy is in transition,"

    I suggest you may be missing many points
    1) That big lump of money is building the Communicatons platform for the Nation for many decades, much of that cost is Labour (employing workers). Whatever we get is all we will have for many decades as upgrades will just be too expensive.
    2) The economy is most definitely in transition, the old ways are no longer the answer, the mass production and mass manufacturing is gone for ever to developing nations, even in mining and agriculture increasingly we have competition. Service industries have to have customers that have the income to pay for their products. That communications infrastructure is critical to our Nations economic future, however doubtfull we have many in our current business sector that can rise to the challenge.

    "If an FttH connection is that important to an elector, why wouldn't they stump up the cash to make it so? For a few thousand dollars, the elector could enjoy a modern broadband connection and address one of their highest concerns. To do otherwise would be hypocrisy, and, in connectivity terms, akin to squibbing on the greatest moral challenge of our time."

    I suggest ascertain some facts. Precisely what do the Coalition promise re this oportunity and what does it entail and what can it actually deliver?
    How many can actually have FoD if required at what actual cost?

    Follow and read the links and references
    Abel Adamski
  • Turnbull's Facts are a Joke.

    "Turnbull is fully across the issues of his portfolio,"

    That's for sure! He's developed BS & FUD into a fine art considering the numbers who seem to accept that most of his FTTN fairy tales are actually destined to be implemented let alone achievable in results, time, costs or performance, lol.
  • More Garbage Reporting

    What a load of garbage. The difference between labors NBN and the coalitions FTTN is like night and day.

    The NBN fibre optic network
    - good for the next 40 to 50 years
    - 100mbp / 1000mbps is the starting point
    - easily upgradable to higher speed
    - highly reliable
    - lower maintenance cost

    The coalitions FTTN:
    - dead end system
    - obsolete is 4 years
    - less reliable than current ADSL
    - slow 25mbps
    - High maintenance cost
    Carl Hansen
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