Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A year is a long time

I started this blog to discuss the Government's digital economy efforts. That blog got rapidy overwhelmed by anti-filter campaigners.

At the same time a year ago there was still much cynicism about the NBN, as tenders had just been recived and Telstra excluded from the process.

In April the Government changed the agenda on the NBN, and in July they released their DE report.

This month the Government held its Realising Our Broadband Future conference to build on the both of these - the Digital Economy future directions meets the NBN. An interesting fact is that despite the forum attracting lots of public participation, I think there were only three comments that linked filtering to the agenda. Which perhaps goes to show that manufactured outrage is not a sustainable position.


Meanwhile the reactions to the policy have been many.

Catherine Lumby writing in The Punch has trotted out some of the old stuff, based on misunderstanding the policy. In particular she tries a fear campaign that safe sex messages would be filtered out - as if there are any safe sex sites that would be Refused Classification.

She also raises the bogey about the control of the list. Conroy has commenced a public consultation on how to ensure the accountability and transparency of this list.

GetUp! (who admitted that their campaign against the filter was just designed to raise money) told the ABC that there is something wrong with a "public complaints" mechanism because that's what previously banned things like Catcher in the Rye. I keep being confused by this argument - because the web sites Conroy wants to block would be prohibited from import in any other form.

In the same interview EFA questioned the efficacy of the policy, as did Stilgherrian and Bernard Keane at Crikey. But they all miss the point that no legal prohibition is ever one hundred percent effective, but that is no reason not to try.

The worst I saw was David Braue at ZDNet who wrote an entire article that bore no relatio to the policy as announced, only to the prejudices of those who have tried to wrap themselves in a libertarian and freedom flag and have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

Long time coming

OK so I've been quiet a while. In the meantime Stephen Conroy has completed his "filtering" trials and come out with a policy.

He seems to have addressed all the myths and fear mongering on the topic.

Most importantly the technical report showed that filtering a defined short list of adresses (URLs) can be achieved reasonably accurately without serious impact on network performance. On the subject of what to exclude he has announced that it will be limited to Refused Classification material, that is, imported online content will be subject to the same restrictions as imported content on paper or a disc. This is not creeping censorship, it is making the same rules apply everywhere.

The list is therefore not the same as the infamous ACMA "black list". It will be constructed using public complaints and international co-operation to identify the most egregious sites. What's more he has listened to concens about secret censorship and proposed a process of public scrutiny of the list.

Finally he has heard the concerns about the absence of an R18+ category for games and has commenced a process to seek to introduce that classification, and at the same time has stated that these games will be not included on the list of refused classification sites to be blocked.

In addition to the mandated filtering he has recognised that there are end-users who don't feel confidant in their ability to maintain their own filters. He will introduce a program to assist ISPs in offering an opt-in network based filter that goes beyond the mandated filter.

This looks like a sensible policy that goes no further than tries to apply the same rules to web content a are applied to other content. It is a policy based on testing of solutions and with appropriate puiblic safeguards. It is a policy that makes the fear-mongers in the internet community look somewhat foolish. As an example, how much of the discussion was about the blacklist and how it was constructed even after Conroy made it clear the policy would only apply to RC?

Will it work? Yes and no. It will stop people accessing certain sites through simple web browsing. It will not stop the the internet being used to "import" refused classification material. It is a proportionate response.

Do gun control laws stop death by gunshot? No, but they do severely limit it and make Australia a safer place.

Acknowledgement should be made of the contributions of Telstra, Optus, Primus and iiNet in working with the Government in developing this scheme. This is a refreshing change from an industry normally best noted for taking no responsibility for its products and making assumptions about the abilities of customers that are not conected to reality.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Up there with Ireland

So reland has now published their Digital Economy report. Well actually it is "the first report in the Knowledge Society Strategy process".

They have a six point plan. But theirs starts with choosing to build an exemplar network with Irish technology called "Optical Burst Packet Switching".

It has a few more targets and more projects - but is otherwise much the same as ours - all content centres and smart grids. Ho Hum. Read all about it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It is here at last

I started this blog way back in December by welcoming the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to the blogsphere. Tonight (until dawn) the Minister launched the report that the blog fed into.

I guess the report will get tossed around a lot. There will be some like Stuart Corner that will be disappointed that it didn't read like a business plan - with clearly stated goals, measurement processes and neat strategies for its implementation. But in the end those kinds of reports aren't much use either.

As was noted in the introductory chapters of the Glasson report Government has a limited array of activities it can pursue. These include legislation, taxation, incentive payments or investments. The only other toool they have is to "define the conversation". In a more lyrical moment I might talk more about the importance of that, and how in the real world real decision makers are very much "boundedly rational". The significance of framing the conversation is that you can direct the conversation.

The final report has done a wonderful job of providing some structure to that framing discussion. It has created a degree of vision about what the Digital Economy entails, carvd out roles for Government, Industry and the Community, and talked a bit about how progress will be measured. For each of the three sectors three "elements of a successful digital economy" have been outlined.

These are;
Government: lays the foundations for digital infrastructure
Government: facilitates innovation
Government: sets conducive regulatory frameworks
Industry: demonstrates digital confidence and builds digital skills
Industry: adopts smarter technology for environmental sustainability
Industry: develops sustainable online content models
Community: enjoys digital confidence and digital media literacy
Community: experiences inclusive digital participation
Community: benefits through online engagement

These are really valuable structures to frame the discussion. It is particularly valuable that the term "industry" refers to all productive sectors of the economy not just the ICT industry. It is also useful to note how the three sectors of government-industry-community are described as inter-relating.

It is perhaps a pity that what has been forced into the frame is much the same discussion as was in the original consultation paper and that between them all the individuals and groups who submitted weren't able to shake some new ideas loose.

I imagine there will be more critics than just Stuart. It perhaps isn't as sexy as Digital Britain, it couldn't copy the simple "four Cs" model from New Zealand (confidence, connnectivity, capability, content - I think).

The success of the Directions Paper will be measured by how much the framework can be used for framing discussion. That is something that can only be judged in time.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Merciless rip-off

As this is meant to be a digital economy site I thought I might rip off an item from Plum Solutions that provides a really interesting example of just how useful the web has become for developing human knowledge.

What they were providing was a list of online resources to assist people using Excel for financial modelling. Spreadsheets some may now were the original "killer ap" for the PC, with VisiCalc for the AppleII and the original Lotus 1-2-3 for the initial IBM platform. While they have come a long way from there the advances have mostly been in formatting options and built in formulae. But the biggest single change has been their ability to handle larger quantities of data.

The suggestions from Plum were;
* The LinkedIn Financial Modelling in Excel group. The LinkedIn groups in general are a good way to access people interested in your field. Knowledge Management professionals will talk a lot about creating virtual groups of experts across an organisation. LinkedIn shows how to do it across the globe. Interesting question - do the really large knowledge based organisations like the consulting firms run their own social networking sites. I know that at least one Government Department (actually DBCDE) tried to do so but it didn't seem to get much use.
* Pointy Haired Dilbert is a fascinating blog for the heavy-duty Excel user. Plum suggest that if you subscribe, barely a day goes by without a fascinating tip or Excel tidbit.
* Accotding to Plum www.financialmodelingguide.com and the related www.finance30.com have a huge following and are great resources on general finance as well as Financial Modelling. These are very much focussed on the "finance" part of financial modelling.
* Plum refers to the discussion forum on Financial Mechanics site as "the entertaining Swamp Fox" newsletter and user forum. Possibly interesting stuff, again very much for the financial.
* Meanwhile Vertex 24 is described as a guide to Excel in everything and includes loads of templates and calculators.
* Corality is an interesting firm that specialises in the audit of models. They provide a blog that Plum claims "has lots of Financial Modelling and Excel-related topics".
* Others suggested by Plum are Navigator Project Finance which has a blog together with free tutorials and other resources to download, and Access Analytic which has a "knowledge area".
Plum concludes by noting that for plain Excel stuff, you can always head straight to the Microsoft user discussion groups

Plum readers also offered other useful links. Mohit Khurana provided a link to his own ExcelMatic blog. Another reader promoted speadsheetzon.com which describes itself as "one of the biggest Excel template repositories on the web".

The purpose of this post wasn't just to mercilessly ripoff the Plum post nor just to make abn interesting repository of these links for leter use - it was to show off just how much the web increases the accessiblity of this kind of knowledge.

My only disappointment...none of the links seemed to refer to the Mathematica kernel for Excel, and they were all financial modelling biased (the place spreadsheets made their own). I'm more interested in the statistical/econometric capabilities, and in the possibility of using Excel as a platform for conducting agent-based modelling (why - because CELLS look like natural homes for parameters for agents (which could be rows) - new sheets for each new time period - and lots of mathematical functions are available).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Long Time No Talk

I got an e-mail advice on 25 May that read

The third installment in the government's online consultation trial has just launched (with much less publicity) Please check it out at www.openforum.com.au/NHROC I would be happy to talk to you about it. Really want to let as many people as possible know it's happening so they can participate.

I sort of missed it though as I had temporarily retired battered and bruised from the public policy debate space.

I was intrigued by how this was called the "third installment" - I guess the DE blog was the second as someone else had run one as well. But I have serious doubts about the validity of this one, as the choice was made to use space on www.openforum.co.au which counts as its major sponsor a group called Global Access Partners. GAP gives the illusion of being a straight-forward private think tank, but their modus operandi was pretty is very non-transparent.

More recently the Australian Government has launched a consultation on Government 2.0 using the tools. I'm starting to think they are trying too hard to find ways of doing it differently rather than simply being organic in the development of use. After all the move to publishing decision from the Government Gazette to websites has been gradual.

The big focus on Public Sector Information has nothing really to do with any of the digital economy issues - the traps in this space seem mostly to be caught in odd thoughts about Government not competing with the private sector. That is, by being in the info biz they cut off someone else's opportunity to make a buck.

The relative logic of that proposition kicks off a strand of discussion in economics I don't want to pursue.

PS Tried another post to Crikey about filtering. Let's see if they will publish me again.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Secrecy and the Digital Economy

It was with some fascination that I noted that the Digital Economy blog and subsequent discussion paper included a section on private sector use of Government information. I realised it appeared there because of the particular interest of one advisor to Minister Conroy who has subsequently moved on to the office of the Premier of Victoria.

It has been one of the notable achievements of the Rudd Government that at least Senator Faulkner has been able to progress on a range of issues to do with openness in Government. This has included both FOI Reform and the lobbying code of conduct. However, I am aware through a family connection that Senator Faulkner is finding the process slow and and the support of his colleagues lacking.

But it remains the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy that sets the benchmarks for opacity. One of the more bizarre is their ongoing inability to understand the lobbying code, most recently demonstrated by a claim in a call for sbmissions that submissions by lobbyists would need to comply with the code. The problem is the code actually notes that submissions made in response to requests for submissions is not a lobbying activity.

They also suffer from an ongoing inablity to release submissions to discussion papers at or about the time of submission. The most recent ase is that of the Digital Economy consultation itself. It appears their excuse (from talking to a colleague) is that they forgot to ask at the time if submissions could be published and are only just getting around to that task now.

A related problem is the idea that consultants reports on policy issues are automatically tagged as "advice to the Minister" and hence never allowed to see the light of day. This usually results in repeated consultations covering the same turf.

Thankfully the related agency ACMA only suffers from its interpretations of the lobbying code of conduct. It has a new policy of including an agency response to submissions (that is, active demonstration of the concept of consultation by demonstrating that the views were considered even if not adopted) at the same time as final papers are released.

I would prefer they focus on transparency of the policy process before they worry about access to Government data.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Australia goes ballistic

From the little broadband backwater Australia has <announced its own plans to go ballistic on broadband. I guess this will make tickets to the FTTH Council in Melbourne in May the hot item of the month.

But its been really hard to work out what's going on. The announcement include a summary from the Expert Panel evaluation which said that no proposals met the criteria but a path forward could be found with a mix and match from various proposals.

The price tag of $43B is just a projection from these elements to deliver Fibre to the Home to 90% of the population at 100Mbps, and 12Mbps to the remainder through satellite and next generation wireless. But outside of Tasmania we have no idea who the providers will be nor how they will be chosen.

Because the Tasmanian fibre is only offering 100Mbps one can safely assume that is GPON. Bad news is that GPON suffers the same "not future proof" characteristics as FttN. It also doesn't really come with an estalished competition model for innovation.

The wireless component is unspecified technology in unspecified spectrum. In Australia right now the only available technology is WiMAX and the only spectrum owners weren't bidders.

As for the satellite component to deliver 12Mbps to the 2-6% of the population that might be serviced that may require one or two more satellites than are currently planned.

Plenty of opportunity. The big loser remains the incumbent telco elstra - especialy as the accompanying regulatory review foreshadows that their second and third strategies after FttN (use their pay TV infrastructure or wireless) may be barred to them through forced divestiture of the Pay TV business and the capping of future spectrum.

As Benoit Felton says;

Overall, both of these announcements, much as they may be frought with risk, are momentous because they dare to break the current paradigm that was inherited from the (largely botched) telco liberalisation back in the 80s-90s. It's hard to anticipate how either will play out simply because for a large part we are now in unknown territory.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Crikey by-play

Stilgherrian has been busy over at Crikey again today and yesterday. I'm not going to bother linking to him.

In yesterday's Crikey I had comments published. But in response to the extra I made a contribution which has not yet been published, which reads;

Oh dear. Those anti-filter types just can't seem to follow the story long enough to get anything right. Re: Razer: Conroy should not be surprised at blacklist leak, the good Helen has tried to infer something from the list of six providers announced already as participating in the trial, claiming "Sadly, applicants Optus and iiNet are still waiting. For the first round, Conroy has selected some odd companies." This isn't something being decided in "rounds" as the Minister has explained (at ATUG) there are sixteen applicants and some had simpler applications to process than others. Some ISPs have tried to use the trial as a way to fund equipment upgrades, which, understandably, isn't the Minister's intent.

Meanwhile Stilgherrian should have waited till he'd seen my comment before rushing to print. Wikileaks doesn't have another leak they are just describing how they got the list - and - horror of horrors it had nothing to do with the ALP or the filter trial. It was a copy of the list generated under the legislation and distributed in accordance with the industry code. So nothing in the filter trial was relevant to the list leaking, except the campaign. Most importantly the process supposedly favoured by the industry (end user control, filtering software) was exposed for the inadequate process it is.

And there is an attempt to claim that because a site referred to ACMA after August was on the list that the list must be more recent than its date. This conveniently ignores the fact that the list contained URLs not on the ACMA list, so it could have been there from another source, and also that the anti-filter campaigner reporting the URL has no way of knowing if the URL was already on the list before complaining about it.

Finally, if the Minister has made inconsistent statements about what content the final filter will limit (the existing prohibited list or the narrower Refused Classification) I'm prepared to believe his most recent comments, or at least wait till I see what is in the final legislation

Mark Newton got a reply in today's comments and Stilgherrian had yet another go.

I've submitted my contribution;

Mark Newton (comments) incorrectly states that I suggest the IIA was involved in the leak of the ACMA list. But he does agree the list was leaked from the existing process and the existing legislation - which is the framework the IIA supports. He asks how long the list for the ISP filter would take to leak, and the answer, as I wrote, is that it doesn't matter - as with a filter in place the average joe-blow at home isn't going to be accessing the sites.

I think the issue about whether the list released is or isn't the "ACMA" list is a little weird. Even the first list seemed likely to at least include the ACMA list. But, to repeat, the leak came from a nine-year-old process of distributing the list to filter providers who embedded it in software for furher distribution. Can we all agree that that is a dumb idea? And, by the way, if we plan the filter right we only need to install it on the transit links out of the country rather than in every ISP - that is a lot more efficient and a lot more controlled.

And it really does become possible to institute a process for review of the sites listed on the list. Finally it is strange that Stilgherrian can be dredging up the "Conroy s Big Brother" line (which is matched in the chat forums with claims that the Rudd government is totalitarian) in the ame Crikey issue as John Faulkner's review of FOI laws is reported.

If I was the editor I probably would't bother because I'm not saying anything new ... but then again, neither is Stilgherrian or his colleagues.

To confuse things

Let's talk about democracy.

You might have seen an item by Michael Duffy in he SMH on the weekend. Duffy discusses the claim that "the internet has healthily diluted the political power that used to be concentrated in the hands of those who were older, wealthier, and better connected than the average citizen." He relies upon a book by Matthew Hindman called The Myth of Digital Democracy to claim that the internet has in general made little impact.

The central thesis is that who speaks, and who gets heard is still fundamentally the same. For example, while GetUp! might reach a big audience, so did street stalls with paper petitions. People like me who blog were also letter writers to newspapers. People who talk a lot about politics in chat or twitter do it a lot in the pub.

The thesis has some merit - however, it is not quite as simple as that. True the same people are still mostly doing the same things just in different ways. But significantly the internet means that a individual is no longer denied a voice. The impact is at the margins rather than a fundamental reform. And it is all too easy to forget how in earlier generations the printing press was the most significant weapon of revolutionaries. Simon Sebag Montefiore's Young Stalin is full of the stories of the moving, defending and loss of printing presses.

You don't notice the benefits of the internet in democracies as you do in states that aren't democracies.

This is all a long intro to segue to the fact that I've been included in an online list of the censorship who's who. I'm sure the Crikey guys would be thrilled to see that I'm referred to as having contributed i the main stream media because I have written in Crikey - they don't think of themselves as MSM.

Anyhow the site also has a who's who on a Bill of Rights. Just to confuse matters I'm absolutely supportive of a Bill of Rights. I'm ultimately supportive of a Bill of Rights that would be incorporated in the Commonwealth Constitution, but I can see all the dilemmas that poses.

What I can't stand is all the opposition to a Bill of Rights as just an Act of Parliament. Lots of very idiotic comments running around about either over-empowering judges to "make law" (or at least overturn law) or about constitutional problems if courts lower than the High Court were empowered to make decisions about the constitutionality of laws.

It really is possible to hasten slowly. Step one would be to pass an Act establishing Basic Human Rights in Australia. In that Act you authorise a statutory body (e.g. HREOC) to report annually to Parliament on whether any rights have been affected by legislation, and empowering them to conduct enquiries and receive complaints. Parliament doesn't have to do anything - but the process holds the Parliament and Government to account to voters for the contraventions. (You can expect they will react by varying one or other Act).

Once we all get comfortable with that you change the Act so that the High Court can decide if a new piece of legislation offends the Act, and specify that the latter Act is void if it is not re-enacted by the Parliament within three months (or twenty sitting days) of the Court's decision. Once again Parliament might decide to amend the Rights Act.

Once that becmes stable you put the referendum to adopt the final Act as a set of Constitutional rights.

Not hard really. And I suspect that the filter would be legal under any of them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Oh Lord Oh Lord

Here we go, the filter issue is getting out of hand. Apart from Stigherrian and Helen Razr getting another run in Crikey, there have been three high-brow pieces.

The first is ABC radio Background Briefing which, quite frankly, was standard beat up 101. Drawing wrong conclusions about who the first six triallists were, pointing out that there are other ways to access child pornography. The idea that the filter is "filtering" all web-traffic rather than simply blocking access o certain sites.

The second is New Matilda which also runs most of the same lines.

Meanwhile at Online Opinion there is a wacky piece which provides a really good scenario of how someone registering a new site could be acquiring a name that has already been blocked. But he spoils it all by claiming that a person who linked to the site would already be in court defending a fine rather than having become aware of the fact the site was on the list. But the supposed solution was about not just URL blocking but actually de-registering domains. That could be far more disastrous.

Pity that with all this attention no one else seems to pose the two step question. Is it appropriate to run classification systems at all? If so, how should it be done on the Internet?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Filtering - again

I promise this is not my obsession, but I am getting increasingly frustrated by the nonsense that is the campaign against Internet filtering. I'm inspired to write by the leaking of the "ACMA blacklist" to Wikileaks.* It is interesting to note that according to the Minister this is NOT the ACMA list.

The difficulties I have with the campaign are many, but the main ones are that it is not a genuine libertarian cause, that it is mostly self-defeating and that it is based on the opponents own constructed straw-man. Let me deal with the first two, and then fill the void created by the absence of clear policy from the Government.

Not libertarian
The campaign against the filter is not a genuine libertarian campaign because, in fact, nowhere do they make the argument that the information that the Government ostensibly claims is to be filtered - images of child pornography and abuse - is information that should be frely available.

Earlier libertarian campaigns that did lead to radical changes in Australia's approach to censorship focussed entirely on the right of citizens to access he material subject of the campaign. The campaign about the censorship of The Little Red Schoolbook was a classic example of focussing on specific content. Similarly the work of Wendy Bacon and others expressly focussed on sexual politics, but this was based on some philosophical foundations. The ultimate was, of course, the simple absurdity of the book censorship rules that banned books like Portnoy's Complaint and Lady Chatterly's Lover. It was the revision of these rules that made Don Chipp a poster boy of "small l" liberalism.

A similar campaign now would be about the stringency of the rules that deems certain material "refused classification" and hence not legally able to be distributed or sold in Australia. But this is not the campaign - the campaign is that somehow the Internet is precious and different.

A slightly different variant of the libertarian strand of argument is that somehow the creation of the ability to filter Internet content merely by the device of a secret blacklist would empower the executive government with the ability to filter out other material, such as political material. The whacky case of the gruesome abortion images was supposedly demonstrating the possibility of this. Other comments, notably on the DE blog (now torn down I gather), went to the idea that this Parliament shouldn't provide the tools to another Parliament to implement.

This is all slightly crazy. Firstly you don't need this Parliament to make things possible for a future rogue Parliament, they can do it themselves. Secondly, the list is maintained by a statutory authority not subject to direction on including specific sites. Conspiracy theorists might abound, but you'd need to involve a lot of people in the conspiracy.

The campaign against the filter is not a genuine libertarian campaign.

A self-defeating campaign
Jonathan Zittrain, in his book The Future of the Internet; and how to stop it refers to the wonders of the Internet being the fact it is a generative technology. He writes;

Generativity is a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.

His thesis is that generativity is the Internet's greatest strength and its greatest weakness, it is this generativity that turns the Internet into a superb means for conducting scams, for phishing and, indeed, to subvert ordinary agreed social rules that are enacted as laws. This ongoing trend makes users sufficiently nervous about the net that they want it "controlled", and control ultimately means "locked down". There would be nothing simpler for controlling the net than going bck to the idea that all networks are Government owned and controlled just the way telephone networks were until the early 1980s.

The campaign about the filter only serves to drive home more to the non-technologists just how much this fear is justified. It does nothing to make the average user feel more comfortable to be told that a Government program to "protect the children" is ineffective because people can just work around it. That's like telling people that there is no point in a law prohibiting murder because people will still get killed. It doesn't instil confidence - it just inspires people to say "do more" - in the case of murder more is banning guns and increasing police forces. In the case of the internet, nationalising it is one safe way to go.

But more specifically the recent event has been the publishing of the ACMA "blacklist". Now this is the list prepared to notify filter providers of the sites that ACMA has identified that under Schedule 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act. It is notable that the list that has ben "leaked" in March 2009 is the one issued in August 2008 - speedy stuff.

It is also notable that this list has been in existence since the original amendment was passed in 1999. Why has the list been made public now - because it suits the purposes of those campaigning. There were lots of comments about how the list would become public, but it only has become public because of the campaign. How exactly does that endear the campaign to anybody? Especially since it also appears that the document is not the ACMA list.

Finally and most damagingly for the anti-filtering campaign, the publication of the list has less effect if the filter is in place! We will talk more about the ability to subvert the filter - but do I really care if the list of sites you can't get to is known?

I really do not know what campaign these people are pursuing, but it doesn't seem to be logical. Of course, they try to take comfort from the idea that the Government won't get its legislation through the Senate. Hello. Has anyone noticed that the existing law was introduced by the coalition when they were in Government. Do they really think that the coalition are the group that are going to vote for child porn?

A better strawman
In the absence of the Government doing it, let's write a possible policy.

The concept of classification of content is now well established in Australia. The most well understood regime is provided by the Classification Act that, as we know from the cinema ads, helps us make informed choices. The essential concept is that it helps a person to know before they (and importantly pay to) watch or buy something that it meets the standard they would expect. So the primary purpose is informing people about the content. A secondary purpose is to impose some mandatory restrictions, specifically on where and how R18+ and X18+ material may be displayed. In addition it allows for certain material to be "refused classification", this is material that cannot be distributed or sold, but it is not illegal to own. Included in this is a tighter level of material covered by other legislation - specifically the "illegal" material of child pornography, this is material that it is illegal to have in your possession.

This regime is all compounded by the fact that aspects of it are in State law, for example, whether X18+ material can be sold. Similarly the classification scheme itself was subject to an agreement between he States and Commonwealth, and the fact that there is no R18+ category for games is because of the inability to get this agreement, not unwillingness on the part of the Australian Government. (The absence of this classification evidently is a reason to object to the banning of online RC material - as opposed to being a reason to get the category created).

Let's also look at the limitations of the content classification scheme. Refusing something a classification and making it not available for distribution in Australia will not prohibit someone from accessing that material. It might be brought in undetected in luggage or even in the mail. However, the fact that it might still be accessed is never given as a reason for not having the classification and the prohibition.

This is not the only process. Recognising the more dynamic nature of television the TV networks operate their own classification scheme within the TV code of practice.

In the best of all possible worlds a similar classification scheme could operate for the entire web content on the Internet. For simple browsing all that would be required is that as part of the DNS scheme every domain had a classification. Just as TV that classification could be self-attested by the domain owner. Where the domain facilitates other contributions, e.g. blogspot that hosts this blog, whirlpool which is a forum, it is up to the domain owner how they police the need for all content to met the classification standard. The ability to execute a take-down notice of some kind would suffice. A variation on this is the approach taken by the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA).

Unfortunately due to a range of factors, including the fact that different countries still have different standards, the full implementation of a satisfactory online classification scheme is some way off.

So absent a global solution, how can we replicate the outcome of a classification scheme (noting that if you want to make the libertarian argument against classification that should be a technology independent argument). The coalition tried to do it through the device of the existing BSA provisions. This defined certain content as prohibited. Prohibited content was to not be hosted in Australia, and through an industry code, the industry agreed to restrict access to the content that was hosted outside Australia. That latter restriction is by the provision of the list of prohibited content to filter providers and the promotion by ISPs of those filter providers to their customers.

This legislation unfortunately defined prohibited content as being R18+, X18+, and RC material. The procedure is that content is currently only listed if a complaint is made to ACMA and ACMA has investigated the site, classified the material in one of the categories and identified the site is hosted overseas. The ALP policy did include a plan to be more active on the list construction in conjunction with the filter. In addition ALP policy planned to require all ISPs to offer an optional "clean feed", that is of a filtered service more restrictive than the prohibited content.

What Conroy has never clearly stated is that it is his intention to modify the BSA so that there are two classes of content. The RC material that must be filtered out, and then the R18+ and X18+ that would be filtered out if a customer elected to acquire a clean feed.

The only objections to this (that are not objections to classification in general) are that it will "slow the internet", that it won't actually stop access to the bad stuff and that it is subject to abuse as the list is secret.

Slow the internet
Say the word "filter" and people immediately assume dynamic filtering or "deep packet inspection". In reality the simplest implementation of a filter of designated URLs (parts of sites) is to map those URLs to the IP addresses of the machines that host them. It is this list of IP addresses that is provided to ISPs and they route traffic to those IP addresses to the filter provider who undertakes the further analysis. This is cheap, scalable and efficient. It adds zero latency to IP addresses not on the list, and ideally can be implemented as part of the transit provision service out of the country and not need to occur in ISPs.

It won't stop access
This is the weakest argument, because it is equally true of all attempts to prohibit anything. As mentioned above you can find ways to get access to RC films or pictures. But is that a reason not to try? Is that sufficient reason to say they can be sold in any newsagent in the country? It is also the argument of the tech savvy who don't understand that the vast bulk of internet users never get past just typing URLs into browsers.

Secrecy of the list
The more effective the filter, the less necessary it is to keep the list secret. The list of films refused classification is public. It is no use in Australia because you can't buy them, though you could use it to try to source one through the means we know. Similarly the list of banned sites isn't much use to you if the filter is in place (except that you may equally use it to subvert). As a layer between secrecy and full disclosure the list could be made available for interrogation by application - so that civil libertarians and others could check to ensure the guidelines are being pursued.

Concluding remarks
The campaign against the filter is, quite frankly, stupid. It is only succeeding because Conroy hasn't been prepared to convert more of the campaign promise into policy documents. A good old fashioned "green paper" to accompany the trial would have been a good start.

Meanwhile others keep making gooses of themselves. The IIA is most concerned about the idea of legislation and would prefer to deliver whatever Conroy wants by way of a revision to the industry code. Conroy himself in answering a question at the recent ATUG conference is reported to have gone on at some length with the idea that the filter can't be undemocratic because it was the Parliament that will introduce it.

That hasn't stopped the Greens' Scott Ludlum engaging in a bit of posturing that he and other Senators will stop the legislation but they are still afraid the Government might try non-legislative routes.

It would be all much simpler if we divided the discussion into its two simple parts. What classification and content restriction schemes are appropriate for all content, and how can we mot readily put that into effect for content delivered over the Internet.

* I'm led to believe that providing a hyperlink on my site to the site that provides the list technically is a breach of the rules about publishing the list. If I am so notified I will remove the link.


There you go, a new word for you. What does it mean? "Pertaining to rule by cynics".

Use the word in context - judging by the commentary about internet filtering in Crikey and other supposedly reputed sources, the governance of the internet is cynicocratical. That is the possible subject for a blog post all on its own!

However this blog post is actually about words - in fact two kinds of words - firstly words that are in danger of extinction and secondly words being created. There are two ripper websites devoted to each topic - each of which can send you a "word of the day" (and both shown to me by the same work colleague).

Save The Words is a cool flash site that provides a picture of a lot of words that are in danger of falling into disuse. Moving the cursor moves the frame across the virtual picture and the words asked to be picked. You learn the meanings of the words, can adopt words and order a t-shirt of the word. The site is operated by the Malaysian subsidiary of OUP (and unfortunately the t-shirts are only available in Malaysia and Singapore).

Meanwhile Urban Dictionary describes itself as the "slang dictionary you wrote". Hence it technically could be called a Wiki-ictionary devoted to slang. While much of it is interpretive of existing slang, it is also a place you can go to make up a word. The word of the day today was "cewebrity" which means "an internet personality that has achieved celebrity". On that basis one of the afore-mentioned - the identity known as "the fake Stephen Conroy" - is a cewebrity.

I've signed up for both. I'll resist the temptation to try to include both words in a blog posting each day!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Slow response time

I have received a late comment on one of my earlier posts about the filtering issue by websinthe.

I really get irked by people who object to my ocassional typo (more often typos than spelling errors). He wants me to use Firefox as my browser because it has an inbuilt spell checker - but then again I could always compose in a wordprocessor and cut and paste.

I object even more to people who use the gratuitous sign-off that implies the whole piece fails on grammar, logic and research.

Now to the substance. Apparently my comment that certain concepts on which capitalism is founded weren't self-created was both insulting and wrong. Firstly when I claim "an argument ignores X" I am not actually claiming "the person who is making this argument is ignorant of X". I can't infer the latter from the argument made, I can infer the former, which is all I did.

As to whether the concepts were made by Government either through courts or legislation it is not sufficient to claim something pre-dates the concept of legislation (as in a Bill introduced to a Parliament) to refute that. The context includes any action made by the representation of the State including a monarch. Yes, diffrent kinds of money flourished without central control. The only money that anyone ever relies on is the money that comes with the various levels of security created by the Government's role in money. Similarly the concept of a contract only required the two people entering into it to agree they wre agreeing, but the idea of contract as expressed in market theory requires all the elements that were created by judge-made law.

(Oh - and if anyone cares the following is not a grammatical sentence "You claiming that I am ignorant of the legislative and judicial origins of the three frameworks you mentioned when only one of them was a creation of common law and none of them were created by legislation. " )

Now as to the references to the Whirlpool action. The story is that ACMA issued a notice that one of the posts on Whirlpool included a link to prohibited content. The concern seems to be over the responsibility of the site hoster.

The bad news for Whirlpool and anything like it is that they aren't a mere conduit and that the site's owner has the same responsibilities as a newspaper. If a defamation action is brought then the site owner can be included.

Is that fair? Well, yes actually. You see the site owner has made the concious decision to have "unmoderated" comments - just like I have.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Researching the bleeding obvious

ACMA has today released a research report titled Australia in the Digital Economy: Trust and confidence.

In their media release and the executive summary we are informed that

Australians value the internet and see it as critical to their daily lives...However, while Australians overwhelmingly see the internet as having affected their lives positively, they still have concerns about the potential for the internet to negatively affect their privacy and security. These concerns currently do not form a barrier to participation in the online environment, as increasing numbers of people use the internet for a wide range of activities including e-commerce and social networking.

One could posit that original primary research wasn't required to reach these conclusions. Perhaps the research is justified if it gives a clear lead on policy implications.*

The interesting part of the research is the analysis of users self-evaluation of their Internet skills where 36% od respondants rated themselves as above average skill levels (12% very, 24% somewhat), while 45% rated their skill level as average. (Of the 19% who rated themselves below average, it was 7% in very much below average and 12% somewhat). Is this possible? Shouldn't an equal number be below and above average? That depends on what meaning of "average" is used - if it was a median then that is what you'd expect, if it was a mean the kind of outcome above is possible. If we assume "average" means the mean plus or minus one standard deviation the outcome is possible on a hypothesised "score" of skills that would have a distribution that was clumped very much above the mean but had a very long distribution below it.

But that assumes that one can meaningfully "score" skills. It does pose the question of whether relying on user's self-assessment is appropriate versus actually testing those skills. A really useful study would involve testing the skills as well as seeking the self-assessment.

The report almost does this in its correlation of self assessed competency against the measures taken to protect against on-line risks. This is made somewhat difficult because of the reports measure of action taken. The Very much above average skills group had a relatively low level of having installed anti-virus programs, but they had a much higher level of "computer had filters/software installed when bought" which would typically include anti-virus. If we make that assumption there is overall the expected correlation between assessed skill level and level of protection.

The report itself errs by asserting that "eighty-one per cent of internet users are confidant in their skills". The error is that a user's belief in whether their skills are average or better does not equate to whether their skills are adequate or not.

The report's conclusion that high levels of self-assesed skills do not translate into taking proactive protection measures seems to be based on not including reliance on pre-installed software. Even were it true it is not sufficient evidence to support the reports major conclusion that

In order for consumers to continue to trust the internet and to ensure the growth of the digital economy, consumers need to be informed about online risks and ways to protect their computers and themselves from the more negative and harmful aspects associated with internet usage.

It is hard to determine how that conclusion can be reached on the basis of the evidence presented. This is compounded in the report's conclusion in stating "there is a critical role for industry and governments in the continuing improvement of consumer awareness".

In general the report is composed of relatively inconsequential statistics leading to disconnected conclusions that otherwise appeal to the interests of a regulator. Perhaps these weaknesses can explain why research conducted in June 2008 is being released in March 2009.

* Note however that this is one area where the current structuring of ACMA under an establising Act with three separate principle Acts to be administered creates some confusion. The question of how much policy analysis is meant to be done by ACMA as opposed to DBCDE is an interesting question.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Will the filter crowd come out to play

The Federal Government is again using on-line technologies to help in policy development, this time on child care policy.

The last attempt was the blog on the Digital Economy, which got swamped by people posting about a completely different policy, albeit one covered by the same Minister. Will those same people decide to swamp the child care policy with the same kind of content? It is probably just as relevant as it is one Government not just individual Ministers who make policy.

Will they find some tenuous link - maybe some spurious argument that the money spent on internet filtering would be better spent on chld care? Or that Maxine McKew should replace Stephen Conroy because she would know more about media?

Let's see.....

Meanwhile legal abortions are a subject for discussion in NSW. The only tenuous link being the flurry over some images on an anti-abortion site being added to the ACMA blacklist.

But before people get too excited about the question of legality or otherwise, I wonder if the people of NSW realise that already legal abortions cannot be obtained in NSW public hospitals. We are already back to the horrible days of the 1960s where abortions were able to be procured by the rich (they always knew the appropriate doctor) and never by the poor.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Internet Filter

I'm not going to bother linking to them, but I note that Stilgherrian has replied to my reply to his latest piece on the Government's internet filter trials and policy.

This was not what I started to write about, and I'm determined that I'm not going to respond anymore until something new real happens - that is, the results of the trial or an actual policy announcement.

Hmmm - a view on the post Sol world

It has been interesting to see the reaction to the departure of Sol Trujillo. The first has been the tendency to use various Hispanic references to his departure, incuding the PM's "Adios" and a News Corp cartoon of Sol riding into the distance on his burro.

Equally interesting has been the morphing of the "thre amigos" to being Sol, Phil Burgess and Greg Winn, while the reality is that it was originally Sol and his three first wave colleagues, the two named and Bill Stewart.

Sol evidently has found the references to his Hispanic heritage to be verging on racist, which is a charge it is very hard to follow. Is it racist to liken Kevin Rudd to an over eager Belgian reporter? Has there been any part of the use of the Hispanic linkages to suggest that he is any lesser quality of a human merely through his heritage?

Meanwhile the firm he headed made a great trade in xenophobia, referring to their largest competitor as "Singapore Telecom", and focussing on the "Australian-ness" of Teltra (while still spruiking the shares in overseas markets).

It is interesting to see that Telstra's PR site "Now We Are Talking" has received a whole lot of negative assessments of Sol's contribution. This is a site that struggled to get comment that wasn't mere hagiography.

Meanwhile Telstra's own Kate McKenzie asks What's wrong with Australia, criticising the reaction of the media to Sol. Partly this seems to be a veiled comment on the Hispanic references. But another part is her sense that people who haven't worked for Sol directly don't really understand how great he is.

There is an element to which Sol, by his tendency to raise wide ranging ire, has drawn his own troops to him. Making everyone outside "the enemy" steels the resolve of his team. Members of the senior executive team get support from the CEO for being ontroversial, whereas in other more appeasement oriented regimes individual managers feel they can be cut off at any time.

Sol will, over time, be like ach of the last three CEOs (Ziggy, Frank and Mel - of Telecom), people under whom great things were achieved, some errors made, great profits extracted from monopoly rents but largely the great machine just grinds on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rudd Plagiarism

The Courier Mail today has run a story accusing Kevin Rudd of plagiarism of 26 words in his essay for The Monthly.

The story doesn't acknowledge that this as first reported by The Oz on Monday. The difference between the two stories is that the Oz noted that the 26 words were indeed quotes that the two pieces shared in common, and the Courier Mail didn't acknowledge that the "research" was conducted by the Liberals.

So let me repeat the comments I made in Crikey on Tuesday.

Clearly the Liberals are sniffing the chance to hang Rudd with the same complaints that were made against Julie Bishop. This would be a great political win, and provide the deputy Liberal leader with some much needed cover. But we are then breathlessly informed "both men produced identical quotes from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan to demonstrate the weaknesses of the global financial system."

So what is the charge -- that both accurately quoted the original? Or that Rudd "cheated" by quoting the same sources. Claiming this is plagiarism is like suggesting two students cheated because they both quoted the "To be or not to be" soliloquy when writing an essay on Hamlet.

Far worse for their case though is the implication that the Liberals have already subjected the Rudd piece to the "Google test" of typing whole phrases into the search engine and looking for a match. If this is all they have found they should shut up about it. All they would do now is just highlight how egregious the plagiarism on their side of the House was.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Of Devils we Know

The second part of the story about the departure of Julie Bishop from the shadow Treasurer's gig is what happens now to all those stories about a succession in NSW. Crikey and others have been full of the stories of various machinations to ensconse Joe Hockey in NSW, be it via Jillian Skinner's seat or some other.

These stories have been fed by the simple observation that the Liberals in NSW under Peter Debnam were unelectable, and that despite all the promises they don't look much better under Barry O'Farrell. There seems no prospect of jolly Joe making the transition now! So where do the desperate NSW Liberals turn now - on their form it is inconceivable that they'll run to the election without turmoil.

Meanwhile the three-fold shift in personnel hasn't done anything to improve the coalition front bench. Senator Coonan will be monumentally out of her depth in Finance, and will be no match for Tanner in a head-to-head on Lateline (and has anyne else noted how odd it is that she and her Senate leader now have officially swapped their jobs at the time of the last Telstra privatisation in Opposition). One wonders why the coalition weren't more adventurous and at least promote Andrew Robb to Finance. Does Robb now have a "lean and hungry look". Julie Bishop will make no impact on Foreign Affairs - but that is no change, either for Bishop or the coalition in Foreign Affairs. That leaves the only hope that Joe works as Shadow Treasurer. But looking at his form it is unlikely. In Government he was a good "Mr Fix-It", he is personable on the telly, but over does the senorious critique. But he has no record of really getting down and dirty in policy analysis - which is what the coalition has been lacking in economic policy.

Similarly the choice of the squeaky clean (or lean and squeaky) Chris Pyne as manager of opposition business seems strange. Tony Abbott might not be everyone's choice as their dinner companion, but his determination and mongrel could be expected to put some more spine into tactics.

We know they opposed the stimulus package, we know they sort of would like to see tax cuts brought forward. It isn't the job of Oppositions to promote alternative policy as such, but it is there job to create a framework around which their criticism is based. This was the lesson of the Beazley inheritance - no amount of looking serious and attacking a policy works unless the people you want to nod their heads as you make these points can really understand what difference you would make.

As the NSW Liberals are starting to realise there is a big difference between getting the punters unhappy or uncomfortable with the current Government, there is a big step in converting that into a positive belief that the alternative can be better rather than simply the general resignation that Government continually fails us. The benefits of incumbency are many, but the biggest of them all is "better the devil you know".

Harrassing a Minister

The serial pest Stilgherrian had another comment in Crikey about the Internet filter.

I posted a short comment on his blog but also a longer piece that Crikey hasn't yet seen fit to print. The shorter piece tried to highlight the fact that Conroy is being attacked for spending too much AND too little on the trial. Stilgherrian in his reply tried to repeat the argment that a trial wasn't warranted because there wasn't a policy being trialled - which was the same technique used by Howard to kill the republic.

I don't know what it is about Stilgherrian that makes his near unintelligble prose such appetising content for Crikey. Somehow or other we are meant to believe that Conroy has unanswered questions about his internet filtering trial that he was supposed to "come out and answer" after issuing his press release announcing the first six triallists.

It would be an interesting story if there were an accredited journalist out there who had tried to get comment and was denied it.* But Conroy's media adviser was unlikely to be able to take any serious journalists calls as everytime he makes an announcement the lunatics post Conroy's e-mail address and the media adviser's mobile number on the Internet forum "whirlpool".

Take the post from "Gator" at 5:57pm last Wednesday "Conroy can shove this test where the sun doesn't shine. It's not even remotely valid. Quick – hammer his email. :P". Followed up with "minister@dbcde.gov.au There's his email – feel free to flood his inbox. Make the objections cogent and not just stating the bleeding obvious such a "you are a retarded, moronic self-serving bastige with the IQ of a watermelon and the timing of a lousy comedian on an off night" at 6:06pm.
It was btone at 6:32pm that posted "From the ahem...press release...aka political death warrant: For further information on the Government's cyber-safety policy, including detailed questions and answers, see: www.dbcde.gov.au/cybersafetyplan Date: 11 February 2009 Contact: Tim Marshall (phone number given in the post) Heloooo, Timmmmehhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! :)"

These are the people we are led to believe by Stilgherrian are the sophisticated opposition. Do they understand that the only thing guaranteed not to get politician's attention is the unsophisticated message attack? (Oh and by the way that e-mail address and phone number can be readily found on the internet if people really wanted to find them, not sure why the whirlpool brigade need to be given them).

The posts as a whole make interesting reading, as just as many people complan about the delay in the trial as complain about the trial. Well, actually, the same people complain about both. Just as the same people complained about the fact that Conroy only announced trials with small ISPs, ignoring the fact that they also announced they were continuing to work with other ISPs to finalise arrangements. (Mind you when someone pointed out the line about continuing to discuss with other ISPs, basil00 wrote at 10:45pm Wednesday "Yeah, I it's possible. But it's also possible that the above statement is a trick designed to defuse criticism over the exclusion of those larger ISPs :/ Didn't seem to work."

Seems the poor guy can't win - if he announces something its wrong, if he delays someting he's wrong.

Conroy keeps repeating this is a trial to inform evidence based policy. I ask you what distinguishes these internet libertarians from the christian moralists they seek to oppose - because it certainly isn't anything about being grounded in reality.

* Stilgherrian would argue from his post "His office has stopped answering even straightforward questions, and his own response to nearly every question is to ignore the substance of the question and just repeat his prepared statements. That’s not a debate, that’s a parrot. As one journalist put it to me, it’s pointless interviewing him because all he does is read out the media release." Maybe Stilgherrian would like to pay more attention to politics. Has he ever seen a Minister (or shadow) do anything else. It is called being "on message". As an example have a look at Christopher Pyne on Lateline last night.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Trials of an Internet Trial

Senator Conroy probably couldn't have imagined how hard the process of implementing policy in Government could be. Since coming to office the PM has referred to a concept of "evidence based policy", which Conroy has being trying to pursue on filtering by deciding that he won't make propose any laws to implement the clean feed internet policy until after some real trials have been conducted.

But getting to the point of the trials has been troubling. ZDNet reported that the Government had received 16 applications to participate. Telstra and Internode announced they would not participate, Optus announced they would participate in testing the blcklist only, and iiNet announced iot would participate to "prove it wouldn't work".

Yesterday Conroy announced that arrangements had been finalised with six ISPs to participate in the filter trials, and that consultations continue with a number of other ISPs. Good news one might have thought, the Ministr is behind schedule but getting to the point of conducting the trial.

Well, not as far as Senator Minchin was concerned. He saw something dark in the fact that the two biggest ISPs that had indicated they would apply weren't on the list. What is Conroy to do? One would think that the larger ISPs would have more concerns and therefore a more protracted discussion. If Conroy had waited to announce until everyone was signed then the delay looks longer, if he announces progress he gets criticised with who was chosen.

There has been no indication or rumour that anyone is failing to reach agreement on the trial. Yes, it is behind time, but can anyone remember the last time DBCDE or itspredecessor did ANYTHING on time?

Admittedly these triallists (apart from iPrimus) are all pretty small. That, however, is also a good sign because the suggestion was the cost would be prohibitive for small ISPs so presumably these guys are figuring out its worth pursuing.

But it does make you wonder whether there is a future for "evidence based policy", because the process becomes quite protracted. Just doing things behind closed doors and making big announcements might be better - things like a $10B Murray Darling Basin plan. That's more Senator Minchin's style.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The end of books?

Let's see if I can bring together a number of strands today, that really go to the heart of the concept of the Digital Economy.

The Productivity Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into the parallel importation of books. This is a long running issue, and one which parts of the publishing industry take seriously enough to complain about one of the Commissioners on the grounds of bias.

As Crikey points out itis hard to distinguish principle from self-interest at times in this discussion.

But one wonders if the debate isn't really starting to happen just as the whole book business model is about to undergo the same shift as happened to music.

In the SMH on the weekend Naomi Alderton wrote about her conversion to e-books and how they were in fact a green solution. Her device of choice was an iLiad. Meanwhile Amazon is making books prepared for its Kindle reader to also be available on various smart phones. At the same time Google announced that it was making its vast resource of online books available to mobile phones.

In Australia Dymocks already offers digital books for a number of reader devices. Coming from the other direction Angus and Robertson offers the the storymaker which is their name for the Espresso Book Machine which can print and bind a rare or out of print book while you wait.

It would seem the future will not be about the physical importation or printing of books in any form.

As for me - I'd love to try out an e-book format. The Kindle looks great but only works for the US, while the iLiad offered by Dymocks claims to be able to handle any document you could print frm a PC.


I've mentioned before that our good friends at DBCDE in putting together a Digital Economy discussion paper have talked about access to Public Sector Information. Meanwhile the folks at Crikey provided a really good example of the use of statistics in their video of the day today (see below).

The video is a bit long, but the end of it is fascinating. These guys have started their own public statistics program called Gapminder. Some really interesting data series available and some fascinating tools as well.

Define "expert", define "employed"

I posted a comment to Crikey about a correction that Henry Ergas made to a claim by Crikey. The original statement was "Despite the blatantly partisan nature of his columns, neither Ergas nor The Oz feel inclined to reveal that Ergas has been in the pay of the Federal Liberal Party, conducting Malcolm Turnbull’s own version of the Henry tax review."

Today's AFR has an item that calls Henry Ergas a prominent economist who is "the tax expert conducting the review of the country's tax system for Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull". Meanwhile the Australian publishes another Ergas piece, this time criticising the Rudd stimulus package, with again no reference to the relationship (however constituted) with Turnbull.

PS Until doing this review for Turnbull there is no record of him being a tax expert in any way. His CV he has been the expert on how big business should extract rents.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Ultimately the Digital Economy can be seen as a descripton of the wide set of productivity improvements delivered through the adoption of ICT. This is the most limited view, but it seems to be what the Government thinks it is.

Telstra has released a report and white paper, including its Telstra Productivity Indicator. As expected it has been able to turn this into good positive brand stories. The one in Busines Spectator confused at times the ACIL Tasman white paper with the outcomes of the survey conducted by Sweeney.

The observation that large numbers of businesses don't measure productivity improvement masks the fact that many firms focus is on the creation of new markets and products, which typically makes productivity measurement a difficult task.

Business Spectator also comes up with some extraordinary comparisons of Australian versus US productivity improvement over the last thirty odd years. These numbers don't sound right on the surface. But even if they did, in a choice between the US economy and the Australian economy I guess I'd choose ours.

Similarly the note that our productivity improvement had been concenmtrated in mining and agriculture is described as if it were a negative. The theory of comparative advantage in trade suggests you should work on improving your strengths, so it looks to me like we've ben doing the right stuff.

Also from the UK

The interim Digital Britain report has been released. Initial coverage focussed on the call of broadband for all, whereas later coverage noted that the target was somewhat low at 2 Mbps.

The interesting part was the inclusion of that connectivity target in the report, whereas the NBN was excluded from consideration in our local DE consultation (with filtering), and there has been no reference anywhere to the proposal for a new Communications Service Standard made by the Regional Telecommunications Review.

It is frustraing that we really seem to be in a generally good policy area, but only the cogniscenti would get it because of the fractured policy framework.

The Power of Information

Getting back to where we began, the Government's attempt at a blog on Digital Economy issues. One of the topics they tried to cover was the use of Public sector Information.

A second round of the UK consultations on this has come out, this time a highly innovative initiative of posting the draft report on a website in HTML form only designed to elicit comments on it bit by bit. Personally I find it a frustrating way to try to read the draft, but it would seem to be a better approach than the piecemeal "blog" the Government used on the Digital Economy.

As to the actual content, the recommendations focus on free open access (creative commons licences), but they also note that the online environment continues to evolve.

Once upon a time all State Governments had Government Prining Offices, but they got swept away by technology and outsourcing. In Canberra today the great focus is still on outsourcing, but the creatio of a modern day equivalent of the printing office might not go astray. At least for the purposes of cataloguing, maintaining archival copies, and establishing standards including on tagging and hyperlinks.

The future of investigative journalism

In the rush to embrace the Digital Economy the decline of newspapers and other "mainstream media", is taken by some as a new democracy and reduction in the opinion making power of a few "media barons".

However, as the Toronto Star has noted the collapse of the old media model puts at risk the tradition of investigative journalism. This is the kind of journalism that often rquires an extensive commitment in investment to get the story, deep pockets to fight potential lrgal battles, and often stealth in accessing the whole story before details are revealed.

The Star notes a number of potential scenarios for how to fund this investigative journalism. The first is the suggestion by Nicholas Sarkozy that he will help newspapers by funding every eighteen year old for a subscription for a year to the newspaper of their choice (though in Australia university students can already access very cheap subscriptins). Other models are grants from foundations or a group in the US called ProPublica that is acting as a third party "research house" of stories (a kind of twist on the traditional shared resource newsagency like AAP that mostly distributes event based news).

The other model of course is that familiar in British models of the government funded public broadcaster. There is a feeling in Australia that the years of political attack on the ABC have worn it down and its investigative role is greatly contracted.

The item concludes with an exhortation;

Undoubtedly the list of models will grow. But, in my view, the important need is for the dialogue to begin. At stake could be nothing less than the vibrancy and health of our society.

That might be a bit over the top. But are there other models? Does it matter, can citizen journalism fill the gap?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Doom for the Internet or a piss weak story?

Oh dear, Stilgherrian is pushing another piece of apocalyptic doom in Crikey today (not sure if its behind the paywall or not).

I've provided my response to Crikey as follows;

Stilgherrian has thankfully at last acknowledged that an index based filter of the internet can work without degrading the Internet. He now wants to have us believe that the process of delivering the blacklist to ISPs will bring the Internet crashing down all because of one example from Google.

The first and obvious answer, as demonstrated by his power supply story, is that there are risks in all networks, but the good news is that all networks have in place risk management plans. These processes are what enable networks to handle the outages they get. In the specific case of an index based internet filter the risk planning would include (a) after hours arrangements for communicating list failure with ACMA (b) a alarm bell that would ring if the list file was too big (if it specified as a list of ISP addresses unlike the list of URLs Google was using it couldn't happen from a single slash) (c) alarms that trigger before network traffic "fills" the network. And the actual scenario of the IP addresses the network engineers ned to access being included in the "blacklist" can similarly be dealt with by rejecting the blacklist file if it contains IP addresses required to run the network.

So thanks to Stil for providing the first exercise in risk planning for the implementation of the filter to a network. But it still fails, just like his political censorship and other scare stories, as a reason to not implement a filter.

Meanwhile, Crikey also reports on the consequence of the confirmation of the left-right deal for the effect on the SDA, aka "the shoppies".

As Crikey notes

For such an influential union, the SDA's history is enlightening. Crikey readers would be aware that its predecessor disaffiliated from the ALP in the wake of the 1955 DLP split. For the next 30 years, it functioned as the industrial base of conservative Catholicism until finally re-admitted to the party to shore-up Bob Hawke's base in 1984. However, its legacy remains for the most part undimmed.

That "conservative Ctholicism" used to be an important part of Stephen Conroy's personal power base. Maybe he'll venture to be a bit clearer about his filtering policy now!


Wow - I finally found something that explains the Digital Economy

Or was it

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Digital Switchover ... Ho hum

One of the supposed great enablers of the Digital Economy remains the digitisation of various broadcast services. This week however we saw the juxtoposition of Senator Conroy announcing a new package of measures to encourage transition the day after the US Senate voted to delay analog switch-off from January to June. That Bill still hasn't made its way through the HoR.

What's this all about? According to the digital switchover taskforce Digital TV is simply a better way of broadcasting and receiving television signals. Digital TV offers superior picture and sound quality, widescreen pictures and a greater channel selection.

However as a piece of regulatory policy around the globe it has been promoted by the equipment industry keen to sell new stuff, and adopted by policy makers because of the wonder known as "the Digital Dividend". This dividend in its loftier guise is the ability for greater efficiency in the utilisation of spectrum, but in the grubbier realpolitik of Government and bureaucracy it is the opportunity to raise revenue by the auctioning of the spectrum.

In fact what the use of that released spectrum is is one of the core issues here. In the US the freed up 700MHz spectrum has already been sold with purchasers planning to launch different varieties of wireless broadband/4G mobile services.

In Australia there is no business case, desire or need for additional television channels. Why do Australia's obese kids need a 24 hour kids TV channel? Who will watch it from 10pm to 5am - maybe use that slot for real porn? The commercial networks have no idea what to do with their extra standard definition channels. TEN is going to offer a sports channel, but very much a niche and tier two sports channel.

The spectrum may be useful for additional wireless deployments, but most of the allocated 1.8GHz and a large slab of the allocated 2GHz lots sit unused, let alone the waste of space that is the 2.3GHz and 3.5GHz allocations.

So exactly what has Conroy offered to accelerate this process that generates the most doubtful of outcomes. Let's be picky - it is hard to know given all their seems to be is a scant media release. The package seems to be limited to Sunraysia (centred on Mildura) which the release quaintly calls Australia's "leading digital television region" - in reality it is the region first targeted for transition, on 30 June 2010.

The package of measures announced includesThe suite of measures includes:
* a package of in-home assistance to help targeted households
* a new satellite service to extend access to digital TV
* working with the local community to improve awareness and understanding of switchover
* a labelling scheme to help consumers to easily identify digital ready products, and
* a national call centre and a web site providing switchover information.

This doesn't tell us much, except it is notable that in a project designed for Midura the implementation is a "national call centre" - I wonder if Telstra is including in its regional presence plans the benefits to regions of national call centres?

The really telling point in all this is the solution to the fact that digital TV has worse propogation characteristics than analogue, as well as terrestrial digital TV there will be a new satellite service.

This begs the question of whether the Digital TV policy and the NBN policy are at al coherent. After all the NBN will be fully capable of delivering digital TV terrestrially, and the 2% of the population supposedly outside the NBN footprint would be served by the satellite. This was, after all, the expectation when the Negroponte Switch was hypothesised - that communications tradionally carried by air (TV and radio) would be carried by wire, and that communications traditionally carried by wire (voice) would be carried by air (wireless)

Of course, the defenders of terrestrial TV like to invoke how important it is that it is free. It isn't of course. You do have to buy the receiving device, and often an external aerial. After that it is only free if you watch the ABC (since Whitlam abolished TV receiver licence fees - believe it or not such things used to exist). The ads that pay for the content are all ultimately paid by the consumer.

Unfortunately it doesn't look like there is much hope of the far simpler policy - dual transmission for a lot longer period, and leave it to the TV networks to work out the migration. Taxpayers shouldn't be footing this particular bill.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

News Online

Back to the real subject of this blog, the Digital Economy. My many thanks to Crikey whose Video of the Day today was this gem from 1981.

It makes the whole excitement of the Digital Economy and particularly digital media look a bit dated when you realise that was 28 years ago. A lifetime!!!!

I'd be interested in any other similar over-hyped stories of the online world from the recent past. I still recall many Internet pioneers (notably Tom Koltai) promoting the idea that the Internet would make telcos redundant. Did anyone mention Bigpond?

It does mean that we always will be wrong when we engage in technology (and application) forecasting, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't engage in consideration of scenarios.

Life Matters

This is meant to be a Digital Economy site but at the moment the Internet filtering project is the current only piece of policy substance so I think I'll keep talking about it.

For those interested there was a discussion about the policy on the ABC's Life Matters program. The participants were Jim Wallace and Mark Newton.

A very annoying discussion because Jim Wallace referred to "illegal content" which is not a current definition but went on to describe that as only "child pornography" - the stuff that it would be illegal to be in possession of. Mark Newton (perhaps justifiably because of the lack of clarity) relied upon the idea that the prohibited list equalled the mandatory blacklist; i.e. the "prohibited" material.

We had participants debating what the "clear intent" of the Government was - it might help if the Government was clear on its intent. Also a bit frustrating to have the facilitator putting Mark's arguments for him, though equally frustrating that the only "data" on the public interest remains the Newspoll data reported in the Australia Institute research.

Meanwhile Jim Wallace was elsewhere in the media responding to the US Government decision to change its stance on foreign aid and abortion, a stance that resulted in calls for Australia to do the same. I don't want to impose my values in this discussion, but note that for a person as Christian conservative as Jim to be clear that all he thinks should be in the mandatory ban is the RC stuff is something the libertarians should find comforting. Mind he is still specifying the opportunity that people should have the opportunity to "opt-in" for anything that is not "illegal" - the debate is then whether it is "opt-in" or "opt-out".

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The US and Censorship

Interesting that I haven't yet seen an Australian reference to the final decision in the US when the courts struck down the Child Online Protection ct for good.

Some of the reasoning was familiar. Most notably that removing net content because kids might see it was infringing adults rights to see what they want. The American Civil Liberties Union also said the act was ineffective because it didn't affect sites not housed in America. That sounds familiar.

Interesting questions are raised by this. What is the implication of the implied freedom of speech found by the High Court in the Theophanous case? Is the existing BSA provision unconstitutional?

Should the battle be over the filtering plan or the higher principle of enacting our own version of the First Amendment?

Campaigning against censorship

A couple of times I've challenged those criticising the Labor Party's Internet filtering plan that they really sound like they should be mounting a campaign against existing censorship and classification laws, not filtering as such. At least my regular commentator Bob Bain seems to have a genuine interest here, and makes lots of valid points about the inconsistency of various State Laws - but the hotch potch of our Federation isn't easy to solve.

In the context of the Internet filtering controversy it is the Federal law that matters. And that law as it applies to other content does have the feature that content classifications can be appealed.

But before the current round of campaigners get too carried away I thought we should think about the anti-censorship campaigns of the past. The death of John Mortimer gave the opportunity for Felix Dennis, one of the three he defended in the Oz trial, to write a new short recount of that trial.

The interesting thing about it was that the trial was pursued as a conspiracy trial with potentially open-ended penalties. The editors found it hard to find legal representation, a fact that Dennis attributes to political machinations. Subsequent investigations revealed corruption in Scotland Yard in policing pornography and the fact that Oz was singled out for political reasons rather than moral ones (as it represented the "alternative society").

Despite the fact that Oz had its origins down-under our own censorship battles waged into the 70s. The SMH published a story under the titleThe Filth and the Fury in 2004 to coincide with an exhibition on censorship. It recounts some of the the tales of our other counter culture publishers.

[Wendy] Bacon admits she and her supporters - anarchists, libertarians and non-authoritarian socialists - were primarily interested in publishing anything that was forbidden. Whether a poem or article had any literary merit was irrelevant; adults should be free to read or see whatever "turned them on". Challenging authority through an attack on censorship was a form of "direct action". In the end it became the only raison d'etre of Tharunka (and its later forms, Thorunka and Thor).

it goes on

Though the immediate reaction of most people gazing at the innocuous exhibits in the exhibition will be one of bafflement - why would a censor be looking at that? - it's also a timely reminder that Government restrictions on what adults can and cannot see is still a sensitive issue in Australian politics, though formal censorship has been replaced by a classification system.

I don't think the current battle matches that battle at all. However, it does remind us that we should never relax and never be satisfied that "the Government" is acting appropriately.

But they are things that can be addressed through scheme design. It would be nice if the sound and the fury can be directed at that rather than notional point scoring about who said what when.