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.

Monday, January 26, 2009

With friends like these ...

The SMH has got into the act on the filter with two Op Ed pieces. Stephen Conroy is probably thinking with friends like these who needs enemies.

The enemy was the one trick pony Helen Razer who made her reputation on JJJ as a Gen Y version of a shock jock - trying to see how much of the audience she could shock. While I have nothing against her item, reading it you'd think that the clean feed was all about banning all R and X rated material. No reference to the RC stuff at all.

Meanwhile the friend was unfortunately Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby. While he rightly pointed out that the adult content filter is at the moment proposed to be only opt-out, he didn't drive home the point about the RC stuff either. And he shouldn't try to make a 30% speed degradation nor a 3% over-blocking sound trivial.

Me thinks it is time Stephen Conroy entered displayed the kinds of legislative moves he'll propose.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Political censorship, deception and other rubbish

Stilgherrian has been given another run in Crikey today - this time outside the paywall.

I will offer the comment here I've offered to Crikey.

I really wish I hadn't clicked through to the images Stigherrian pointed to in his post, but I wanted to assess for myself what they contained. At core in his item Stilgherrian is making two claims. Firstly that the Internet is being treated differently as these images would be allowed on the TV news. Secondly that because these images appear on a political site, blocking them amounts to "political censorship".
The Television Code of Practice regulates content on television. The code applies the OFLC classifications to films, and their own classification scheme to programs, but not to news. The rules for news (etc) that these programs do not require classification, provided that the licensee exercises care in selecting material for broadcast having regard to: the likely audience of the program; and any identifiable public interest reason for presenting the program material.

It goes on
Material which cannot appropriately be classified AV or any lower television classification, because of the matter it contains, or the way that matter is treated, is unsuitable for television and must not be broadcast. In accordance with the Broadcasting Services Act, television licensees may not broadcast a program that has been classified "refused classification" (RC), or has been classified as X, under the Office of Film and Literature Classification Guidelines.

Now we all know the problem with the existing blacklist is that it is of RC, R18+ and X18+ material. I am happy to accept that the images displayed would fall into the R18+ or X18+ category. I sincerely doubt that any television network would think that those images met the standardsin the Television Code of Practice (did Crikey think to ask any?).

But it continues to be a mere assertion that the step after the technical trial will be the mandatory filtering of anything beyond RC. It is worth noting that Senator Minchin in all his professed concern has never bothered to defend the lumping together of RC, R18+ and X18+ i the Broadcasting Services Act in this way. Maybe Stigherrian might like to sharpen his campaign from being "no blacklist" to "blacklist only the RC list" (I'd join that campaign by the way).

But Stilgherrian's biggest claim is that the blacklisting of this site is political censorship. I don't know why he doesn't just resort to an unrestricted artistic defence of every image. Political censorship would only be occurring if the site were banned for the views it expressed. That isn't the case. It was de riggeur in the late 60's to claim (the Maoist claim) that all acts are political, that isn't the case here. The anti-abortion case isn't being stopped because of the message, just as it wouldn't be political censorship if an anti-censorship site were blocked because it chose to display censored information.

Being twittered about

Somebody calling themselves a suburb and a postcode (I think 2037 is the Glebe postcode anyway) has twittered "Verity Pravda | Just what is your real ident | Please do tell us now"

I think I've dealt with this as much as I'm ever going to. Let me be more philosophical, is my "identity" anything other than a set of cultural artefacts or perceptions of me by others.

My identity is therefore fully revealed in this blog - asking more is a bit like saying to someone to "show themselves" by standing naked in Pitt St.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I know nothing about twitter ...

and I don't think I want to. Looks like a very public version of MSN.

Anyhow I've been verballed in twitter, referring I believe to a comment by You Suck on Tech Wired Australia.

I've been verballed because even I usually have less typos than that (they aren't usually spelling errors).

In case Ben Grubb or Websinthe want to know, it wasn't me.

Opportunism versus vagueries

Seeing the chance to create mischief Senator Minchin has today declared that "Underlying the Rudd Government's plan to screen the internet is an offensive message: that parents cannot be trusted to mind their children online."

This is just another great pieces of opportunism by a coalition that seems to forget they were the Government for the last twelve years. In trawling through every whirlpool post or Stligherrian blog to cobble this column together Minchin is happily ignoring that the mess in the BSA that treats Refused Classification and R18+/X18+ material together was his Government's creation.

Meanwhile Minister Conroy was addressing the ALIA Online Conference. In it he made a succinct defence of his policy. He acknowledged "concerns with ISP level filtering" adding that they "seem to focus on two aspects - technical issues and freedom of speech." He noted the differences between index-based filtering and dynamic filtering and repeated the objective of simply putting these to test - t enable "evidence based policy".

He went on;

And while we acknowledge there are technical issues to be tested, the Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content.

In this context, claims that the Government's policy is analogous to the approach taken by countries such as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia are not justified.

Australian society has always accepted that there is some material which is not acceptable, particularly for children. That is why we have the National Classification Scheme. Like internet content, publications, films and video games are subject to regulation.

Libraries well know that there is regulation under existing Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation which makes it an offence to distribute certain material.

I know which of these two is making more sense - even if it does mean I'll be thought a Labor stooge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Internet of Things

Let's get positive for a change...well at least for the start of the post.

Rob Salkowitz has written that "the Internet of things" is ready for prime time. This is the idea that connectivity moves beyond places or people to devices. As he writes;

The enabling technologies -- RFID, ubiquitous wireless and GPRS networks, Bluetooth, and other short-range transmission channels -- have become so cheap, small, and mundane as to be nearly invisible. Appliances increasingly integrate wireless connections, IP addresses, and Web interfaces as part of their basic design. GPS services are becoming standard on mobile devices.

The technology is here, and the economic stars are aligned. It looks like a pretty good bet that 2009 is the year that the Internet of Things finally gets real.

His colleague Jae Engelbrecht wrote in December that we should get ready for a Sensored Internet - in which he wasn't misspelling our filtering discussion but talking about the number of sensing devices now connected to the net.

He wrote;

What is changing is that sensors are becoming cheaper, smaller, and more energy-efficient. As a result, their use is growing exponentially. Companies, governments, and individuals are embedding them everywhere. For example: Motion detectors now switch on lights, turn on water, and dispense towels.

And these sensors are talking. Many are still not directly connected to the Internet, but that is changing fast. With the spread of IPv6, many of these sensors will have their own Internet addresses and in the future will be talking to each other with implications for online “noise” and traffic.

These are the kinds of things that seem to be missing from the DBCDE discussion on the Digital Economy. A big issue for me is that the Internet of Things really only works if we have IPv6. The Government is taking a very sanguine view, believing industry will adopt IPv6 when it is economically justified.

My problem is that IPv6 to work really requires everyone to adopt it. The larger Internet players have reasons not to. They can enhance their market power if they coral their end-users inside "private networks", thus also restricting the use of end-to-end applications. Adoption of IPv6 was strangely absent from the specs for the NBN.

Meanwhil at least full credit to Internode for their IPv6 implementation. See I do love those guys sometimes.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Macavity the mystery cat...

For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there! *

But Stilgherrian pops up everywhere - today on ZDNet replying to an anonymous comment on ... you guessed it, filtering.

He's really fixated on the idea that a trial is going to be some monumental waste of resources. I think that he and others really fear that the trial might just demonstrate solutions that work.

* From the T S Eliot poem.

Under whelmed by poor logic

I have been engaging with a number of people over at Stilgherrian on the subject of the content filter trials. It has resulted in a worrying collection of responses. Many of these responses seem to be coming from IT professionals, and I'd hope that the quality of the logic in their oprogramming exceeds the quality of the logic in their reasoning.

It is also fascinating that my defence of the concept of the trial is interpreted as a defence of al aspects of the policy. Perhaps this is because they incorrectly (as I've already advised) assume I'm some Labor staffer.

My long post there responded to a "blue pencil" argument from Mark Netwon (of whom I've previously spoken.) This has then received further responses.

A James Polley claims at my first step in demonstrating that there is a problem I fail, because the ACMA list contains URLs of websites that would be refused classification AND would be rated R18+ or X18+. That is, he is trying to argue that my claim that "There exists A" is false, because in reality "There exists A AND B". Well, actually it doesn't, and the syllogism "If there exists A and B, then there exists A" is perfectly valid.

Websinthe (aka Keiran Salsone) opines that "The government is filling a void better filled by private industry. If the internet was as horrible and nasty as you claim it is, wouldn’t the free market rush to fill the void? Wouldn’t business interests demand that the internet be made a better place before attempting to do business there?" This is a very interesting and unsurprising point of view in the twenty-first century. It presumes the concept of spontaneous organisation of orthodox economic theory - which conveniently ignores that such essentiel features of the economy like property rights, contract law, and money were not the creation of private economic transactions but of Government either as legislation or courts. What is happening in e-commerce may be massive, but it is still a lot less than it could be because of these confidence issues. Further there are many e-commerce transactions that utlise the full suite of IP technologies but go nowhere near the public internet.

Websinthe also says "The beauty of the internet, and the reason it has expanded so rapidly, is that it defies all attempts to regulate it." Well, the main reason it proliferated was the initial investment by the US Military and its extension into every University as a research network. It remains the creation of Government, it lives on regulation (be that the self regulation of the IETF or all those court cases about protecting domain names).

He continues "Creating an infrastructure whereby a misguided future government or a malicious external power could block whole swathes of internet is just poorly thought out rubbish." Not creating the infrastructure now does not make the task of a future government to block the Internet any easier. The only thing that protects you is protecting democracy itself, and democracy means that process of regular collective decision making, not the ability for everyone to make their own decisions.

Stilgherrian tries the other twist on my claim that the ACMA blacklist contains refused classification material, claiming "It contains content which, in the opinion of an ACMA officer, might be refused classification. Only the Australian Censorship Board (formerly the Office of Film & Literature Classification) and any subsequent appeals courts can actually refuse classification. It’s a flawed process." Mark Newton had another go in the version "so we’re really just trusting a public servant about the whole damn thing." I hate to point out that technically the OFLC is just another public servant, and that classification in general can be processed by other people, for example TV stations do their own classifying. The current law from which the "blacklist" is composed is only really effective in prohibiting content from being hosted in Australia, and as a consequence both are right in thinking that there has not yet been any judicial oversight.

However, were the list to be used to block access to a site, then various parties would be able to challenge that decision. That process would require a court to determine whether the content did meet the appropriate definition - so you get to the same outcome as for the OFLC. It is a pity that we don't know what form the final legislative support for a mandatory filter would look like because that would help us understand how this process would work. But the bottom line is the current list doesn't get a lot of review because (apart from being provided to filter companies) the list doesn't result in anything.

I'm really greatful that Stilgherrian explained to people how BGP based filtering works, basically from the list of URLs to be blocked you determine the list of IP addresses that host those URLs. At the border of the ISPs network you route those IP addresses only off to the filtering solution. So the vast bulk of Internet traffic suffers no degradation. The other good news is that each ISP only needs to know the IP addresses, and they can contract to a security company the analysis of that traffic for whether it is to the dodgy sites. This reduces the cost to the industry and the number of people who have to access the blacklist.

Mark Newton argues that the Government didn't go to the election with this policy. The ALP's "Plan for Cyber Safety" stated;
That is why Labor will provide a mandatory ‘clean feed’ internet service for all homes, schools and public computers that are used by Australian children. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will filter out content that is identified as prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA ‘blacklist’ will be made more comprehensive to ensure that children are protected from harmful and inappropriate online material.

Mark Newton also wants to restate the objectives so that the project fails. I wrote that the objective was to stop people navigating to a URL using a standard brwoser. Newton says this will fail because of the use of open proxies, using an online English to English translation, or getting "circumvention features commited to the firefox search tree." Problem is that none of those is navigating to a URL using a standard browser.

He also gets stuck into the Minister for not working with industry. It is a bit hard to argue this point given the recent history between Newton and the Government. But it does look to me like he's trying, in fact, trying a lot more than other Ministers. Not trying would look like introducing a Bill to impose the mandated clean-feed and be done with it.

Mark also tries to argue that the existing classification scheme doesn't prohibit an adult from viewing RC material. The Attoney-General's website states "RC films and computer games cannot be legally sold or distributed in Australia." To argue that this doesn't prohibit them being viewed is a matter of sophistry, because before it was viewed it had to be sold or distribted - unless you made it yourself. Mark also is fixated on whether the list would leak or not. I guess we agree to differ on that, except that the leaking of the list becomes less of a concern if it is used to block sites. The kinds of people who know how to circumvent the block probably don't need the list.

The person who made tremendous sense was Bob Bain, who points out that we haven't been totally successful in standardising the existing classification rules yet. But as I have also said, I would be really happy to see a solid debate about what the classification rules should be and how the rights of people to access material should be protected. But that should be medium neutral.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Another rant from Stilgherian

Stlgherian has ranted on Crikey again today about filters.

Simple question. Does this raving lunatic think there should be no classification system on any media.? Or that there should not be a Refused Classification category at all? If so I look forward to his campaign on that change.

I heartily agree that the policy is being handled atrociously. But Stil continually misrepresents what is proposed. Nothing about the filter is about the threat to children from being entrapped on line. The "protection of children" the Minister talks about is the protection of children from taking every action he can to stem trade in the images.

It is the functional equivalent of protecting elephants from poaching by banning the trade in ivory. It doesn't mean you don't also have programs to catch poachers. But you sure as heck don't put up a special entrance way at your ports saying "if you have potentially illegal items please enter here".

And at this point all the Minister is asking is that ISPs try blocking acess to the websites and tell him how it works - that looks like real evidence based policy rather than just one persn saying "it doesn't work". By the way, saying something more than once doesn't make it true.

And exactly why is Crikey providing his rants. Since when has Crikey been a paragon of a complete libertarian view on content. Goodness me only yesterday Stephen Mayne seemed to be promoting ASIC's investigation of those Packer stories and - horror - quite calm about the idea of the journalist being forced to reveal their sources. Somehow I thought that was on the taboo list.

(Stil has responded)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

More on the internet

Mark Newton, the engineeer from Internode over whom a bit of a storm developed last year over (incorrect) accusations that Minister Conroy's office had heavied IIA to have him curtailed, has written to Policy on the subject. Policy is the magazine of the Centre for Independent Studies, a leading laissez-faire think tank.

I haven't usually associated it with the libertarian bent though, I would think its sponsors are more from the socially conservative right. The problem with Mark's analysis is that he again assumes that once Senator Conroy has proven the ability of a blacvklist website filter that all other aspects of the regme stay the same.

I suspect that were there to be success on the blacklist filter technical trial some of the other issues would be easier to deal with. This includes changing the rules to provide more accountability on the generation of the blacklist.

Finally, a little note because onroy's line about the purpose of the filter being about "protecting children" has been interpretted as being about protecting children from seeing the images - it isn't. It is about protecting the children who are the subject of the images.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lognormal and power law distributions

It turns out that Anderson has grappled with the lognormal vs power law distribution stuff before. He gives some very good references.

It is interesting that he claims that his long tail thesis isn't much affected by the difference, but it actually is. That's the real relevance of the study published. I think he also grossly over-estimates what the total size of the long tail can be in any market, but that's for another day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Long tails

I've not yet read Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail but I know I have to sometime. Its thesis is something to do with how the dynamics of new industry models are dramatically effected by the myriad of niche players that can exist courtesy of the Internet. I'm a sceptic, let's say.

The Times has published an item on a piece of research that claims to dispute the theory. The interesting news is that Anderson runs his own blog and has dealt with this piece of research.

His response is that the consequences of the sales from one retailler does not disprove the thesis. The longer version of this which he posted earlier reveals that the study reveals a lognormal distribution rather than the pwerlaw distribution of the long tail. The only other place I've seen powerlaw distributions referred to was a book by Benoit Mandelbrot (a leading chaos theorist/fractal geometer) called The (Mis)behaviour of Markets: A Fractal View of Market Turbulence.

I'm not sure I fully grasped what was going on in that book, but I think it was that random processes actually behave as if thy are going on in fractional dimension space not integer dimension space. If that is correct it has huge implications for all aspects of economic theory - not least because all econometrics is based on the assumption of errors following a normal (Gaussian) distribution.

Footnote: Other references to the Times article are here (which is where I heard about it from) and here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More on Minchin

Senator Minchin has had another go at Conroy over the NBN, this time in the Oz. It was, however, rather delightful that the link to the article on Breakfast Politics was Conroy should roll over to Telstra.

That was exactly the thrust of the article, and included the claim that Telstra had been excluded for "the most trivial of reasons". So now we know that Minchin's stance is that OPEL should proceed despite not meeting the standards of the contract and that Telstra's proposal for the NBN should be considered despite not meeting the requirements of the tender.

It is worrying that his parliamentary biography shows that he holds a BEc and LLB and was a solicitor before commencing his party positions. However, given he was only 24 when he started being a full time politician, maybe he didn't get to practice much law.

Certainly his experience as a Minister in the Howard Government wouldn't have taught him much about process.

His article concludes;

Before it is too late, Conroy should go back to the drawing board, sit down with all key relevant players and plot a more sensible, practical and realistic course to upgrade our nation's broadband capability.

It is disappointing that Senator Minchin is unprepared to take his share of the blame for this mess. The deal he and the Howard Government weere trying to pull off - OPEL for Optus, regulatory change requested by Telstra - would have been a disaster. The flawed tender and its idiotic concept of "competitive tension" is entirely built on the former Gvernment's approach which was to tender for policy.

The bottom line is that if the coalition had spent more time thinking about telco policy rather than how to maximise sale proceeds, we would not be in any kind of mess.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wake up Senator Minchin

The supposed coalition communications spokesman had a short letter published in today's Australian Financial Review. As there is no free on-line version I will quote it completely.

It is a good time to ask why our broadband services haven't dramatically improved as a direct result of action taken by the Rudd government. It is an important question because, when in opposition, Mr Rudd used broadband as a key election issue and made all sorts of big promises and inferences. He and his now Communications Minister Stephen Conroy gave the impression they would wave some magic wand and make our broadband speeds significantly faster almost overnight.

They promised that before the end of 2008 construction of a new high-speed fibre network would have begun and Australians would already be benifitting from new services. But the government, which oplans to spend $4.7 billion of taxpayers' money, has yet to select a network builder and it is doubtful any national rollout will start in 2009.

Significantly, the broadband network promised by Labor will take at least five years to build, and more likely eight, yet the government inexplicably cancelled the previous government's rural and regional broadband network project. The OPEL network would have delivered new services to more than 500,000 under-serviced premises by mid-2009.

A shocking piece really, given that the government's preferred model is to invest the $4.7 bilion, not spend it. Also he ignore the fact that one of his moves in parliament was to try to stop the $2 billion in the Communications Fund from being invested in the NBN.

But the real houler is the reference to the government "inexplicably" cancelling the OPEL contract. It is not difficult or impossible to explain the cancellation - just read the Minister's media release at the time. There he could read the Minister's words;

DBCDE performed an analysis of the detailed testing and mapping undertaken by OPEL, and determined that the OPEL network would cover only 72% of identified under-served premises. On the basis of DBCDE's assessment, the Government determined that OPEL's Implementation Plan did not satisfy the condition precedent of the funding agreement, and as a result the contract has been terminated.

Seems pretty well explained to me.

But Minchin can't help hmself on this sort of stuff. I was quite coincdentally cleaning out my study yesterday and came across an AFR from 22 March 2001. It reads (in part) as follows.

Flagging greenhouse as an election issue, the Federal Government has attacked Labor's environment policy, arguing it would cost jobs.

Labor's commitment to introducing a national greenhouse emissions trading scheme is "most alarming", the Industry Minister, Senator Nick Minchin, told the AFR. "This isgoing to be a major negative for the Labor Party: it would be a huge disincentive for investment and would cost many jobs in Victoria," he said.

The article concludes;

Senator Minchin echoed Foreign Minister Mr Alexander Downer's support fr the reiteration by the US of its rejection of Kyoto. "I welcome the US's reiteration that without the participation of China and India the protocol's not workable," Senator Minchin said.

You really get the feeling that Minchin is a politician whose time has been and gone and should join many of his former felow ministers in alternative employment, or a decent retirement.


I've added Stigherrian to the blog roll - but more out of anger than anything else.

He had yet another piece about Internet filtering in Crikey today (in the subscriber section so I haven't linked it). The following is the comment I've offered to Crikey (that they chose not to publish)

Re: Conroy attacks BitTorrent: Ruins Australia online Stilgherrian is now well reowned amongst Crikey readers as an Internet censorship hater, but you really should be reading what he writes before you print it. His opening paragraph critices the Government's filtering plan without showing any recognition of what the plan entails - so that he continues to repeat the nonsense that the "filter" won't work.

The Government has never anounced a plan to ensure everyone is safe, just that it wants to implement something that looks like the existing classification scheme (that applies to books, movies etc) to websites. The fact that it can be by-passed by other means (e.g. by e-mail or snail mail) isn't the point. And the point of a technical trial is to see what happens.

I'm reminded of the might with which telcos claimed that they could do nothing about Internet dumping in the early part of the decade, only to find via this morning's SMH that Optus was up to their necks in it.

Your correspondant goes on to claim that Conroy's comment about possibly filtering peer-to-peer traffic amounted to a plan to block all BitTorrents, then goes and quotes one legitimate BitTorrent user to get a reaction to the inaccurate conclusion. All of it is garbage.

Meanwhile if Stilgherrian really believes his rhetoric on censorship let's see him start a campaign to have all Refused Classification material allowed into Australia as X+ because - using his logic - existing restrictions won't guarantee that none of it will get in.

The DE Blog Ends (wih a whimper)

Well - the DBCDE blog ended just before Christmas. It was nice to receive acknowledgment on the last post for my efforts. Pity they didn't link to my blog rather than just one of the posts though.

Dave Bath and Sam D both were deserving of that recognition though. Dave gave a good summary of the failings of the blog in general though. I must check his references to the AGIMO work on blogs and consultation.

It is a pity though that most of the coverage of australia and the Digital Economy continues to be about filtering. HotSearch picked up that the blog was swamped with filtering stories. Meanwhile Arts Technica picked up on the leaked then released report on filtering that was the diversion at the end of the year, while UbNews picked up Conroy's comment that the Government would look at peer-to-peer filtering as well. Even the The Minneapolis Star Tribune got into the act.

It ultimately is a pity that the discussion paper released by the Department did show that the blog was just the discussion paper released in pieces (though a different order).