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Aug 1, 2011

Wireless Internet shows hazards of picking winners.

Cartoon: by Nicholson.

The news that technology guru Steve Perlman, sometimes described as the Thomas Edison of Silicon Valley has developed a new ultra high speed wireless technology that could rival speeds on the National Broadband Network has profound implications for the federal government. Labor policy wonks came up with the NBN as a vote-buying exercise prior to the 2007 election.

While cooler heads warned of advances in technology, which could make it redundant, the government plowed ahead, deeming it too important even for such basic requirements as a cost benefit analysis. People had been promised an expensive fiber to the node system, and they were getting it despite the price tag of around $43 Billion.

At this stage the NBN has just 41 active customers at its two operating mainland test sites, despite more than 6000 homes having been connected to the grid and access being offered for free.

The new DIDO technology which allows download speeds up to 1000 times faster than possible on conventional wireless networks, without any fall in speed as more users get on to the network, is a few years away yet. But so is the NBN, so at about the time it is finished this will be appearing. If this is the case then the government’s plans to sell NBN off later will come to little.

The opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said the wireless breakthrough underlined the importance of being "technology agnostic" when it came to choosing broadband solutions to meet the nation's needs. Malcolm is as statist as Rudd and Gillard on this, but Australia has a long history of involving itself in areas where it has no business.

Contrary to Turnbull’s assertion, it really doesn’t matter whether "technology agnostic" or a true believer in one or the other, the government has no place in picking winners on issues.

There are numerous options out there with others like DIDO in the pipeline. The public has differing requirements for individual services, which can be best met, by a healthy marketplace full of competing services. What the government has done is to decide on one of those and set it up as a one size fits all model. Malcolm feels that this action is OK; it’s just that they may have picked the wrong one.

If DIDO gets up, it wouldn’t matter a damn what system was chosen as the standard, DIDO has come after the decision was made and would not have been chosen, even by Turnbull. What is apparent is that government has no place in the marketplace in a free society.


  1. Had a similar conversation with a mate not long ago while we were both bemoaning the mediocre broadband speeds we get. He can't wait to get NBN, though the recent news about the pricing has dampened his enthusiasm a little. I told him every taxpayer in the country would still be paying for the bloody thing when everyone had switched to 4th and 5th gen wireless. VOIP? Probably run that wireless as well, though what the hell, you could leave the copper where it is for anyone who wants it.

    Besides, your connection speed is only as fast as the slowest link in the chain between your computer and the one at the other end. We may have superfast connections here but be regularly bogged down again as soon as we venture past .au and out into the wider web. I've not heard anyone from the government or the coalition mention this point. Maybe they think it's a magic wand and if it's fast enough here it'll make up for slower links internationally, or maybe it's like the carbon tax and once the rest of the world sees us put in fibre to the home all over the place for $45 billion or so they're all supposed to fall over themselves to follow where Australia has lead. Is there any kind of award for bone-headed hubris?

  2. I have heard the point made before, but as you say, not from the government or the coalition. The idea that the world will follow seems to be the same illogic as the carbon tax which is going to reform all of those reactionaries in China, India, ...