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.