By Steve Jenkin
May 21, 2013
The Great NBN Debate is notorious for the high degree of emotion, insult, abuse and attack by many highly vocal proponents for the two political proposals. The response seems disproportionate; something strange is going on…
This piece frames simple, fundamental questions and seeks to answer them.
There is a simple truth, brilliantly summed up by the Bureau of Statistics in 2001, that is constantly overlooked in this debate. Since the 1850s Australians have been at the forefront in communications, and the NBN is just a continuation of that struggle to communicate in our Wide Brown Land.
A topsy turvy debate
What is important is not discussed and what is trivial, is cause for endless turmoil.
I’ve seen some very controversial and divisive public debates, including the Vietnam war and conscription, abortion, indigenous land rights, equal pay for women and abolition of the death penalty. These were life and death issues, or concerned fundamental human rights.
The NBN is none of these. It is a modern infrastructure choice, the selection of which won’t End the World. In fact, on a daily basis, it will be barely perceptible to many people. It will provide ordinary householders an Internet service that works the same for everyone, not that works, just.
The longest running wars Australia has ever been involved in, Iraq and Afghanistan, were entered into by John Howard with virtually no Parliamentary debate. Many Australians have died or had their lives permanently changed in the pursuit of a very nebulous Strategic Principle with no discernible benefit to our country or way of life.
This real Life and Death issue for servicemen hasn’t been costed, nor are figures publicly released. In 2011 it was estimated military spending increased by more than $30 s billion, with $2-$4 billion extra every year for on-going Field Operations. This was funded directly from our taxes, giving us no tangible benefit and was certainly never the subject of any “Cost Benefit Analysis” by the Coalition.
This is the topsy turvy nature of the current NBN debate – expensive Life and Death issues pass by while insignificant technical issues cause endless, raging debate.
It reminds me of Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” where the Lilliputians have a long-standing war that’s riven the nation: Which end of a boiled egg should be opened? The Little-end or Big-End? (A phrase well known to IT folk in a different context.)
In my life, I’ve seen technology change dramatically with little comment, let alone opposition. Even the most fundamental change recently happened almost without comment, while costing households directly many billions – the switch-off of Broadcast Analogue TV after 50 years – like the introduction of B&W TV in the late 1950s and and replaced by Colour TV in the mid-1970s, analogue Colour TV superseded by Digital this century, FM then digital radio, renumbering the AM band, touch-tone dialling, domestic dial-up modems, answering machines and later Caller ID, mobile telephones…
Why has the NBN been singled out for such a low and bitter campaign, rivalled only by the climate change debate?
It’s not obvious ‘Who Benefits’ nor does the usual tell-tale ‘Show me the Money!’ help.
At the very best, it seems to be politicians arguing over which way to open an egg: lots of noise, bluster and theatrics, but very, very little substance.
As far as I can judge, this whole debate revolves around maintaining a functional copper telephone network, the sole advantage of which is that you can plug in your 1925 rotary dial phone and have it still work Not, for me, exactly the strongest or most compelling of arguments. Read the rest of this entry »