Monday, September 14, 2015
Kevvy's baby is slow, expensive and obsolete
The national fibre network was Kevin Rudd's one idea. In opposition, the coalition criticized its vast cost and limited utility but by the time Kevvy was tossed out, the thing was too advanced to abandon completely. So the coalition has tried at least to keep the cost down by making its goals less ambitious. The critique below seems very one-sided. It's from the SMH! It seems to assume that cost and time estimates for the original (Rudd) form of the network would not have blown out. A likely story! They were already blowing out when Rudd got the boot. The guy below is not comparing like with like
The Abbott Coalition government came to power two years ago this week with a promise to change Labor’s fibre to the premises (FTTP) National Broadband Network (NBN) to one using less-expensive fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technologies, spruiking its network with the three-word slogan: "Fast. Affordable. Sooner."
But with the release in August of the 2016 NBN corporate plan and in the light of overseas developments, it is clear that the Coalition's broadband network will not provide adequate bandwidth, will be no more affordable than Labor's FTTP network and will take almost as long to roll out.
With the benefits of two years' hindsight since 2013, let's look at the Coalition's performance against each of the three assertions in their 2013 slogan.
The graph (below) shows funding estimates for the NBN from December 2010 to August 2015. Labor's funding estimates for its FTTP NBN rose from $40.9 billion in December 2010 to $44.9 billion in September 2013, an increase of 10 per cent. By comparison, the Coalition’s funding estimates, both for FTTP and the so-called multi-technology mix (MTM), have fluctuated wildly.
The estimated funding required for the Coalition's NBN has almost doubled from $28.5 billion before the 2013 election to between $46 billion and $56 billion in August. Before the 2013 election, the Coalition claimed that its proposed multi-technology-mix network would cost less than one-third (30 per cent) of Labor's FTTP-based NBN.
But in new estimates released in the 2016 corporate plan, the cost of the multi-technology mix favoured by the Coalition blew out and rose to two-thirds (66 per cent) of the cost of a FTTP-based network.
Also, the cost of repairing and maintaining Telstra's ageing copper network was likely underestimated, as was the cost of retraining and maintaining a workforce with the wider range of skills needed to install and maintain the multi-technology-mix network – costs that are unique to the MTM.
In the space of two years, the lower-cost deal the Coalition spruiked to Australian voters has turned out to be not so affordable after all.
The Coalition probably underestimated the predictably lengthy delays in re-negotiating the agreement with Telstra as well as delays in re-designing the network the new IT systems needed to manage a more complicated network with multiple technologies.
The graph (below) shows the actual and planned number of premises passed (or in today’s parlance – ready for service) for the original FTTP network and the Coalition’s network.
The Coalition’s original target was to bring at least 25 Mbps to all 13 million Australian premises by 2016. That target has now been quietly dropped and replaced with a target of more than 50 Mbps to 90 per cent of premises by 2020.
At the end of July 2015, almost two years after the 2013 election, only 67 premises had been served by multi-technology-mix technologies. In the meantime, as shown (in the graph above), the roll-out of FTTP has continued, albeit at a lower rate than Labor originally intended.
This lower roll-out rate has led to fewer connected customers and lower revenue. It will be interesting to see if the newly released targets for premises ready for service will be achieved (blue broken line in the graph above).
Labor certainly had its problems when it was in charge. For example, slow negotiations with Telstra and asbestos in Telstra's infrastructure caused delays of around one year. The funding requirements for Labor's FTTP network crept up by about 10 per cent from 2010 to 2013.
But the delays and cost blowouts have been very much worse under the Coalition than under Labor.
Australia's broadband capabilities are falling behind its international peers. According to internet companies Ookla and Akami, Australia's broadband speed lags well behind other advanced and even emerging economies.
In 2009, Ookla ranked Australia's average broadband download speed as 39th in the world. Since then, our international ranking has steadily declined and slipped to 59th place earlier this year.
What's worse, my studies of trends in internet speed in Australia and in a range of developed and developing countries show that FTTN technology – a key part of the Coalition's MTM – will not be enough to meet the needs of Australian broadband customers.
In short, FTTN technology will cement Australia’s place as an internet backwater. Our world ranking could fall as low as 100th by 2020.
In many forward-looking nations, fibre-to-the-node technology has never been entertained as an option. In some countries where it has been installed, network operators are planning to move away from FTTN in favour of more advanced broadband technologies like FTTP. In doing the opposite, Australia is moving backwards.
If FTTN magically appeared on our doorsteps by 2016, as originally promised by the Coalition, there would certainly be a short-term advantage. But the 2016 target has been missed and the FTTN component of the network will be obsolete by the time the roll-out is completed.
Of course, there is no point in speed just for speed's sake. Studies in Europe and the United States have shown a strong correlation between GDP growth and internet speed.
In the US and elsewhere, increasing numbers of homes and businesses are receiving services at 1 Gbps and higher. A recent study presents evidence that communities served by 1 Gbps and more are faring better economically than communities with slow-speed broadband.
If in 2013 the Coalition had simply allowed NBN Co to get on with the job of rolling out its fibre-to-the-premises NBN, rather than changing it to an inferior multi-technology mix, it may well have ended up spending less money and delivered Australia a much better network.
The Coalition sold the Australian public a product that was supposed to be fast, one-third the cost and arrive sooner than what Labor was offering us. Instead the Coalition's NBN will be so slow that it is obsolete by the time it's in place, it will cost about the same as Labor's fibre-to-the-premises NBN, and it won't arrive on our doorsteps much sooner.
By my reckoning, we didn't get a good deal.
Must not disrespect Aboriginal ownership myth
The Mabo decision in the High Court made it possible for land to be recognized as having prior Aboriginal ownership but very little land has been recognized in that way. The initial owner of most of Australia is therefore the Crown
A speech delivered to a gathering of politicians and others in NSW Parliament to celebrate the longevity of Queen Elizabeth's reign has been slammed as "bordering on racist" after it made fun of the Aboriginal acknowledgment of country.
The gathering in the private dining room of the President of the Legislative Council, Don Harwin, on Friday night was "in celebration of our longest serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth the second".
The Queen last week surpassed Queen Victoria by notching up 63 years on the British throne.
However, photographs from the black-tie charity dinner revealed that a speech delivered on the evening began with the line: "I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owner of this land: the Crown."
The line appeared to mock the acknowledgement of country, which recognises Aboriginal people as traditional owners of the land before many speeches and parliamentary sessions.
Deputy Opposition Leader and opposition spokeswoman on Aboriginal affairs Linda Burney said the line was "just plain disrespectful and bordering on racist".
"Recognition and acknowledgment of country has become an important part of cultural protocol in Australia – comments like these display appalling ignorance and crude insensitivity," she said.
"Those of us that believe in a republic showed respect to the monarchy throughout last week's celebrations – it is unfortunate that respect has clearly not been returned."
President of the Legislative Council, Don Harwin, said the individual giving the speech was "trying to be humorous".
President of the Legislative Council, Don Harwin, said the individual giving the speech was "trying to be humorous".
On Sunday, Mr Harwin would not reveal who delivered the speech but said the acknowledgement of country "is an important part of the process of reconciliation".
"As President I acknowledge the traditional owners in the Legislative Council each sitting week and at all events I address in Parliament House and many elsewhere," he said.
"The individual making the speech was trying to be humorous. But, frankly, the joke was in bad taste and would have been better left unsaid at what was otherwise a fun night raising funds for a worthwhile charity."
The event was the latest in a series of annual dinners hosted by Mr Harwin at Parliament House to benefit the Australia Youth Trust. It is understood that after catering costs, it raised several thousand dollars.
Australians are 'taking over' the US, according to U.S. comedian
American talk-show host Bill Maher launched into a spirited rant against Australians who are "taking over this country". While US presidential hopeful Donald Trump and his characterisation of Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers was the ostensible butt of the merciless tirade, Maher also found space to work in a thinly-veiled snipe at Australia's own hard-line immigration policies.
The six-minute monologue in the latest episode of Real Time With Bill Maher took aim at "f---ing Australians", "the ethnic group that is taking over this country while we blithely do nothing".
"You cannot swing a dead wallaby these days without hitting an Australian", says Maher with reference to bartenders (with great personality and a generous attitude toward free drinks), surf instructors and ski bums.
"They're bringing drugs, enough for everyone, but still," he jokes. "They're rapists ... okay they do a lot of f--king and I assume some are good people".
He then turned to the army of Australian actors "who flawlessly mimic our accents and then take jobs that rightfully belong to Billy Bob Thornton".
In what was possibly a dig at Australia's own immigration stance, Maher said he will build the greatest reef the world has even seen, "a great barrier reef", which he will make Mel Gibson pay for.
From there, however Maher segued into the true target of his mirth, Donald Trump, without whom it's reasonable to say a lot of US comedians might be struggling to find gags to fill their shows.
"If Donald Trump really wanted to make a America great again he wouldn't build a wall, he'd build a mirror .. then maybe he would see that no one can actually take a job, someone has to give it to them.
"We could stop our illegals problem tomorrow if we decided to stop hiring them. But, no, we talk of walls to protect us from people so dangerous we can't stop ourselves from paying them to raise our children".
Maher is but the latest US comic to look to Australia for comedy fodder. But unlike John Oliver, who has parodied Australia as "comfortably racist" and performed a hilarious riposte to agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce's so-called war on terrier, Maher has reserved most of his ire for one of his own.
Melbourne University porn ban angers Ormond College students
Banned on feminst grounds. Feminists are the new prudes
Students have been banned from accessing pornography at the University of Melbourne's largest residential college, sparking a fiery campus debate on sexual freedoms and censorship.
Ormond College has blocked access to adult sites on its Wi-Fi network, stating pornography does not allow people at a "formative stage of life" to develop a "healthy sexuality".
But some students have reacted angrily to the move, arguing they pay $200 a semester for college Wi-Fi, and in the privacy of their own rooms they should be allowed to access legal adult sites.
In a recent student newsletter defending the move, college master Dr Rufus Black said pornography was exploitative and "presents women primarily as sex objects who are a means to the end of male pleasure".
Dr Black, an ethicist and theologist, argued that allowing the college's 400 students to access porn on its network would be condoning the objectification of women.
"Pornographic material overwhelmingly presents women in ways that are profoundly incompatible with our understanding of what it is to treat people with respect and dignity," he said.
He maintained that even same-sex pornography was treating another person as a "means to an end", and that porn was addictive.
"The way that it functions is that it desensitises viewers so that they need to consume more of it or more extreme versions to achieve the same level of arousal."
However, first year law student Thibaut Clamart, 24, wrote a newsletter response objecting to the ban, saying it was a "moralising statement" and that not all pornography was demeaning.
He told The Sunday Age the ban was so broad it included any form of erotica or sex education, and many students felt their freedom of expression was being limited.
"We all agree there is an issue with the current state of mainstream porn but banning it is not the answer. It won't educate people, it is condescending and paternalistic," he said.
"If their argument is that it's about respecting women and enabling young people to discover their sexuality without having the repressive influence of porn, that makes the assumption that looking at porn is going to perpetuate those attitudes and you're going to behave like a porn actor."
In 1991 Ormond College was embroiled in scandal when two female students accused the then college master Dr Alan Gregory of sexual harassment, an incident which ignited fierce debate on sexual politics on campus.
The case was later documented in Helen Garner's controversial book The First Stone, with Garner accusing the two complainants of "puritan feminism".
Dr Black said the porn ban was not prompted by student complaints but was informed by a "well-held view that pornography depicts women for the gratification of male sexuality".
Sex educator Maree Pratt, who was invited to talk to Ormond students last month supported the college's stance and said there were high levels of gendered aggression in pornography, with 88 per cent depicting physical aggression such as gagging and choking, and 48 per cent including verbal aggression.
"It also conveys a range of problematic messages around pleasure, consent, body image and sexual health. Pornography is shaping young people's sexual understandings, expectations and practices," she said. "A study last year from the UK showed a normalisation of coercive heterosexual anal sex among 16 to 18-year-olds."
Rachel Withers, president of the Melbourne University Student Union, said as long as students were accessing legal sites what they viewed in the privacy of their own rooms should be their decision.
"I would personally prefer to see colleges tackling issues around respect for women's bodies and consent through educational programs and ensuring students receive comprehensive information on consent as part of their college orientation," she said.
Dr Black rejected claims the ban was a restriction on freedom of expression. "We're not in any way restricting their ability to do what they want with their own personal resources but the college's internet is a common resource therefore what it gets used for is a question of community values."