Starting a company in Australia, especially one in the high tech sector, is fraught with challenges that are simply not present in other regions around the world. There are numerous other factors which have limited the growth of our startup ecosystem, many of which are centred around getting new ideas funded. For many the biggest challenge comes when they want to grow their business beyond the bootstrap phase, where they look to venture capitalists to help with their expansion. Australia’s regulatory framework, coupled with our traditionally risk adverse investor network means that the large amounts of capital we do have (thanks to the superannuation scheme) are often locked away from startups. This, combined with the numerous other challenges Australian startups face, have seen many great business go overseas in their pursuit of success. Today however Malcolm Turnbull has announced numerous initiatives totalling over $1 billion in new funding to kick start Australia’s startup ecosystem.
At a purely financial level the changes that are being made to investing in startups in Australia is significant, putting it on par with other investment vehicles. For starters any early stage investment in a startup company (which seems to be broadly defined as a company making less than $200K/year, with less than $1 million in expenses) attracts a 20% offset against the investor’s taxable income. That’s essentially a one off negative gearing payment, reducing the risk of the investment by up to 10% or so (for the highest marginal rate). Additionally that investment, if held for for more than 3 years, is exempt from capital gains for 10 years. This means early stage investors who happen upon the sacred unicorn aren’t going to be burdened with a large tax bill when they sell their stake. It might not sound like much for regular investors but for angels looking to invest in Australia startups the proposition just became a whole lot more tenable.
In addition to this there are several more initiatives designed to allow startups to depreciate intangible assets (like acquired patents), recoup losses and a better insolvency framework so that entrepreneurs aren’t unduly affected by failed businesses. Whilst your’e able to depreciate intangible assets now the actual useful life of them might not be in line with the legally required framework. Under the new legislation startups can self assess the effective life of such assets, allowing them to recoup the losses more quickly.
Additionally, under previous legislation, losses like this that incurred more funding (and hence a change in ownership) would prevent the startup from offsetting those losses against future income due to the “same business test“. The new legislation changes this test to a “predominately similar business test” which means changes in ownership like that, which are somewhat common with startups, won’t see those losses negated.
Finally the reforms to the insolvency framework allow entrepreneurs to tackle the kinds of risky ideas that these companies are known for without the spectre of bankruptcy looming over them. The default bankruptcy period has been reduced to one year from three, allowing them to return to the startup community much faster. There’s also a new safe harbour provision which allows company directors (typically the founders) to avoid personal liability for an insolvent company if they appoint a restructuring advisor to help bring the company back into the black. This eliminates some of the potential risk that’s inherent in reducing the bankruptcy period (as, hopefully, less companies should go bankrupt) whilst also opening up a secondary industry to veteran entrepreneurs to help right the ship of a failing startup.
There’s also a myriad of new funding for a bunch of programs that are intended to spur on research, inspire students to pursue STEM careers and initiatives to attract and retain talent both here in Australia and overseas. All of these programs are necessary pipelines that will feed the Australian startup ecosystem with the talent it will need to grow and sustain itself long term and it’s great to see the Turnbull government recognizing this.
All told there are over 20 new initiatives that have been discussed each of which is designed to build up momentum for the Australian startup economy. Whilst I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a lot of the ideas were lifted from a previous proposal from Labor it’s still great to see the Liberal party championing it. Hopefully this means that many of the initiatives will pass with both party’s support and soon we’ll start to see the benefits far in excess of the projected costs. Personally I hope this spurs on our superannuation industry to start looking at startup investing seriously as there’s vast amounts of capital, only a small fraction of which would be needed to see amazing returns, just waiting to be used. No matter what happens though the future is looking incredibly bright for startups in Australia and that makes this humble writer incredibly happy.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary rights holders are able to convince governments around the world that piracy is a problem best faced with legislation rather than outright competition. It’s been shown time and time again that access to a reasonably priced legitimate service results in drastic reductions in the rates of piracy and, funnily enough, increased revenue for the businesses that adopt this new strategy. Australia had been somewhat immune to the rights lobby’s ploys for a while, with several high court rulings not finding in their favour. However our current government (and, unfortunately, the opposition) seems more than happy to bend to the whims of this group with their most recent bow coming in the form of a website blocking bill.
The bill itself clocks in at a mere 9 pages with the explanatory notes not going much further. Simply put it provides a legislative avenue for rights holders to compel ISPs to block access to sites that hold infringing material through the use of a court injunction. How that blocking should be done isn’t mentioned at all, nor is there any mention of recourse activities that a site can undertake to have themselves unblocked should they find themselves a target of an injunction. Probably the only diamond in this pile of horseshit of legislation is the protection that ISPs get from costs born out of this process, but only if they choose not to fight any injunction that may be placed upon them. However all of that is moot when compared to the real issue at hand here.
It’s just not going to fucking work.
As I wrote last year when Brandis and co were soliciting ideas for this exact legislation no matter what kind of blocking the ISPs employ (which, let’s be honest here, will be the lowest and most painless form of blocking they can get away with) it will be circumvented instantly by anyone and everyone. The Australian government isn’t the first government to engage in wholesale blocking of sites and so solutions to get around them are plentiful, many of them completely free to access. Hell with a very healthy amount of VPN usage in Australia already most people already have a method by which to cut the ISPs completely out of the picture, rendering any action they take completely moot.
The big problem that I, and many others, have with legislation like this is that it sets a bad precedent that could be used to justify further site blocking policies down the line. It doesn’t take much effort to take this bill, rework it to target other objectionable content and then have that pushed through parliament. Sure, we can hope that the process means that such policies won’t make it through due to the obvious chilling effects that it might have, however this legislation faced no opposition from either of the major parties so it follows that future ones could see just as slim opposition. Worst still there’s almost no chance that it will ever be repealed as no government ever wants to give up power it’s granted itself.
In the end this is just another piece of evidence to show that our current government has a fundamental lack of understanding of technology and its implications. The bill is worthless, a bit of pandering to the rights lobbyists who will wield it with reckless abandon which will fail it achieve its goals from day one. Already there are numerous sites telling users how to circumvent it and there is absolutely no amount of legislation that can be passed to stop them. All we can hope for now is that this doesn’t prove to be the first step on a slippery slope towards larger scale censorship as the Great Firewall of Australia begins to smoulder.
Starting a company in Australia, especially one that’s in the high tech industry, is much harder than it is in many other places in the world. This used to be due to a lack of supporting infrastructure, what with Australia’s remoteness precluding the required investment, however in more recent times that barrier has begun to melt away. The problem many startups face in Australia is that acquiring funding is extremely problematic as Australia’s risk averse investing style has meant that our large capital reserves aren’t used to invest in such ventures. Previous governments haven’t done much to change this, preferring to support already established businesses, however in his recent budget response Bill Shorten showed vision that few of his contemporaries have in the form of the Labor’s future technology policy.
At the core of this policy is the Smart Investment Fund, a $500 million allocation that will be used in partnership with venture capital firms and banks to facilitate more investment in early stage startups. I have spoken previously about how something of this nature would be required in order to kick start a Silicon Valley equivalent here in Australia and the policy that Bill Shorten has proposed lines up with that idea perfectly. Whilst startup investment can never be made risk free making them more attractive, through direct government investment and the partial loan guarantee with banks, will ensure that more of Australia’s capital makes its way into new businesses rather than the traditional investment vehicles.
Of course providing funding for such ideas is only one piece of the puzzle as we’ll need to encourage students to pursue careers in those industries. To this end Labor as put forward a policy to provide numerous scholarships to students who complete degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and then go on to become teachers in their fields. In addition to this Labor is proposing to forgive the HECS/HELP debts of almost 100,000 students studying in this field, something which could provide an incredible leg up for fresh graduates starting their career. Considering that 75% of the fastest growing new jobs are within these fields encouraging students to take up careers is an incredibly smart move and one that the current government should look at adopting.
You might be surprised to hear this but I’m on the fence about coding being added to the national curriculum, mostly because I’m not sure how it’d end up being implemented at the school level. Starting out in coding isn’t the most exciting of adventures and the rote learning approach which many schools use would, I feel, end up with them becoming bored and frustrated rather than energized and intrigued. Of course I’m not a teacher and I’m sure there are many who are more experienced in this field who could design programs that tackled this issue properly. In the end this is something that I’d have to see in action before I could form a solid opinion on it as whilst I’m all for kids being aware of how technology works I also know how quickly they can become bored with such things.
This is what the Australian public needs to see from a party in opposition: clear concise policies that show a valid course of action rather than mud slinging and point wining which have plagued Australian politics for the last 3 terms of government. Whilst these policies might not ever see the light of day it’s good to see that the Labor party is thinking along this direction and hopefully such policies will fuel their campaign come next election. I can only hope that the Liberals take note as whilst any incumbent would loathe to agree with their opposition it’s hard to deny just how solid some of these ideas are.
For us Australians the reasons behind our high rates of piracy are clear: we want the same things that people are able to get access to overseas at the same prices that they receive them for yet we are unable to get them. Our situation has been steadily improving over the past couple years with many notable international services now being available on our shores however we’re still the last on the list for many things, fuelling further piracy. Of course this has prompted all sorts of reactions from rights holder groups hoping to stem the tide of piracy in the misguided hope that it will somehow translate into sales. The latest volley comes in the form of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) 2015 which, yet again, attempts to address the issue in the dumbest way possible.
Essentially the amendment would empower rights holders to get an injunction against Carriage Service Providers (a broader term that encompasses all telecommunications providers) to block access to a site that either infringes on copyright or enables infringement. The amendment starts out by saying it’s prescriptive however the language used in it is anything but, often painting broad strokes which could conceivably be construed as being applicable to a wide range of sites and services, even VPNs in some cases. Whilst there are provisions in there that are supposed to prevent misuse and abuse much of it is left up to the discretion of the court with very little recourse for sites that find themselves blocked as part of it.
To be clear the legislation targets foreign sites only but makes no strict provisions for the site being targeted to be notified that they are facing an injunction. That’s left to the party seeking the injunction to do, something which I’m sure no rights holders will attempt to do. Whilst the law does say that this law isn’t meant to target sites that are mostly based on user generated content however it’s clear that the intention is to go after index sites, many of which are primarily based on user submissions. This puts the legislation at odds with the current safe harbor provisions which could see a site blocked due to a number of users submitting things which put it in the realms of “aiding infringement”.
Of course whatever blocking method is used will be readily circumvented, as it has always been in the past.
The rhetoric that’s surrounding this amendment is worse still, with the CEO of ARIA saying things like “We’ve made the content available at a reasonable price [but] piracy hasn’t diminished”. Funnily enough that’s a pretty easy thing to verify (or rebuke, as the case is) and last year Spotify did just that and found that music piracy, in Australia specifically, has been on the downward trend ever since the music streaming services came to our shores. Strangely enough Australians aren’t a bunch of nasty pirates who will repeatedly pillage the rights holder’s pockets, we’re just seeking a legitimate service that’s priced appropriately. If the rights holders spent as much money on deploying those services here in Australia as they did lobbying for copyright reform they might find their efforts better rewarded, both monetarily and in the form of good will.
Hopefully this amendment gets shot down before it becomes reality as it would do nothing to help the rights holder’s situation and would just be another burden on the Australian court system. It’s been shown time and time again that providing Australians with the same services that are available overseas will reduce piracy rates significantly and that draconian ideas like this do nothing to stem the tide of illegitimate content. The companies that are realising this are the ones that are killing the old media giants and things like this are just the last death throes of an outdated business model that is no longer relevant in today’s digital economy.
It’s no secret that I thought the conscientious objectors exemption for the Family Tax Benefit A vaccination requirement was total bullshit and it infuriated me to no end that what sounded like a great policy ended up being trivialized. The fact of the matter is that whilst you might think that vaccination is a personal decision it is anything but as choosing not to vaccinate puts other people at risk, usually those who are least able to fight off the dangers that you or your children will now present to them. Still the moronic ideal that vaccines somehow cause more harm than they prevent prevailed with a choice group of people, seeing the number of unvaccinated children double in the past decade.
The government was obviously aware of the fact that their legislation was being routinely circumvented by a disturbingly large number of people and just yesterday introduced new legislation dubbed “No Jab, No Pay“. Whilst the crux of the legislation remains the same, people who refuse to vaccinate their children will lose several tax benefits and rebates until they get current, however this new bill removes the get out of jail free card that the conscientious objector exemption provided. Now the only way to get around losing your tax benefits is if you can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons (something that’s extremely rare and would be covered off by herd immunity normally) or if you have a religious reason for doing so.
Thankfully the latter provision has said to be extremely narrow which will most likely derail any attempts the anti-vaxxers have of trying to circumvent it with something as ludicrous as the Church of Conscious Living, a religious group set up specifically for that purpose. Whilst that might not stop anti-vaxxers from joining up some of the more esoteric, but established, religions that have such exemptions I’m sure many of them will be thinking long and hard before they associate themselves with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In any case it will likely force the hands of many to get their children vaccinated so they can receive those benefits from the government, a win-win for all involved if you ask me.
The fact that the government has had to step in like this shows just how serious of an issue the anti-vaxxer movement is becoming. The fact that the number of unvaccinated children has risen so sharply in recent times is cause for alarm on its own however the flow on effects of that are far, far worse. We’re seeing a resurgence in diseases that were essentially considered eradicated in Australia, some of which can have dire consequences for those who don’t have the immunity granted to them through the use of vaccinations. The anti-vax movement will argue that the vaccines do more harm than good or don’t prevent diseases that they say they do however the science simply does not line up with any of the claims they make and yet they continue to perpetuate the myths.
There’s really no argument to be had here, vaccinations work, are incredibly safe and for those precious few who are unable to get vaccinated the benefits of herd immunity will ensure that they will not suffer from the diseases they cannot protect themselves against. The more people that refuse to vaccinate the worse off we will be as a nation as we’ll be once again battling diseases that we would otherwise not have to. The cold hard fact is that vaccines are several orders of magnitude better than the diseases they prevent and to argue otherwise is disregard decades of science, numerous public health studies and your own morality that goes against harming other humans.
If you’re willing to look past all that then you can see why I’m not sympathetic to you losing a few dollars from the government.
Breaking into the property market has become more difficult for first home buyers in Australia as of late mostly because of reasons I’ve explained in detail on this blog before. It’s not an easy problem to solve as many of the options championed by self proclaimed experts are politically charged and increasing the housing supply isn’t as simple as many people think it to be. Thus many of the measures that the incumbent government suggests are often things that don’t address any of the underlying issues directly and instead look to put more money in the hands of potential first home buyers. Joe Hockey’s recent brainwave to address this problem, by allowing first home buyers to dip into their super for a deposit, is a classic example of this and it will neither help first home buyers nor address the underlying issues that they face.
Whilst it’s not a formal policy they’re looking to submit yet (hence the lack of detail around how the actual scheme would work) Hockey says that he’s been approached by lots of young people looking to tap into their superannuation in order to fund their first home purchase. On the surface it sounds good, younger Australians get to put a roof over their heads and get their foot into the property market, something which should hopefully sustain them for the future. The main problems I see with this are two fold; firstly most people won’t have enough super to make a difference and, secondly, it will likely set most people back meaning their retirement will likely not be fully funded by super.
On average your typical superannuation balance at 25 is on the order of $10,000, not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Even the most generous loans that let you get away with a 5% deposit would only see you able to get a loan for $200,000 with that amount of cash, not exactly the amount that many now first time home buyers are looking to finance. That figure doubles by the time they reach their 30s but that’s still not enough to finance the home on its own. Indeed first home buyers are likely to need double or triple that in order to buy their first homes which means that they’ll need to have at least $20,000 in savings for those meager amounts of super to help push them over the line. If they’re able to save that you’d then think that bridging the gap wouldn’t be outside of their reach, at least within a reasonable timeframe.
This then leads onto the conclusion that the opposite situation, one where someone couldn’t save that much and required their superannuation to bridge the gap, is the least preferable scenario for a first home buyer. You see a savings track record proves that someone will be able to cope with the repayments that a mortgage requires whilst at the same time still being able to afford everything else they need to live. If you don’t have this and are looking to get into property diving into your super isn’t going to help you, instead it’s going to put you in the unenviable position of having even less money available to you, eradicating any chance you had at getting ahead. You’d hope that the last batch of lending reforms would prevent most people like this from getting a loan in the first place but I think we’ve all seen people get themselves into this situation before.
On top of this using most or all of your super would essentially put you back 5 or 10 years in planning for your retirement. That might not sound like much when most people will have 50+ years of working life but a lot of the power of super comes from compound interest. When you take an axe to your initial savings it resets the clock, pushing back the compounding rate significantly. That means you hit the high growth part of your super much later in life, leaving a lot less than you’d expect for retirement. This would mean more people getting onto the aged pension sooner, something which the whole superannuation system was designed to avoid.
I’ll hold off on any other criticisms until I see an actual policy on this but suffice to say the idea is rife with issues and I think the only reason that they’re entertaining it is to win back some favour with the youth vote. If they do put a policy before parliament though it’ll be interesting to see how they address criticisms like this as I know I’m not the only one to find fault with this policy. Heck I’d love to see more people getting into property since it’d bolster my investments but honestly I’d rather see the underlying issues, like lack of supply and the owner-occupier CGT exemptions, tackled first before they start looking towards trashing people’s futures for short term gains.
Why the Abbott government hasn’t abandoned their incredibly unpopular metadata policy yet is beyond me. Nearly all other developed nations that have pursued such a policy have abandoned it, mostly because attempting to pass something like this is akin to committing political suicide. Worse still in their attempts to defend the policy from its critics the Abbott government has resorted to tactics and sensationalist rhetoric, none of which has any bearing on the underlying issues that this policy faces. Top this off with a cost estimation that seems to be based on back of the napkin math and you’ve got a recipe for bad legislation that will likely be implemented poorly and at a great cost to all Australian citizens.
Conceptually the idea is simple: the government wants to mandate that all ISPs and communications providers keep all metadata they generate for a period of 2 years. Initially this was sold as not being an increase in the power that authorities had however that idea is incredibly misleading as it greatly increases their ability to exercise that power. Worse still obtaining access to metadata doesn’t require a warrant and isn’t just the realm of law enforcement or intelligence agencies as people on local councils can obtain this data. Suffice to say that the gathering and retention of this data is a massive invasion of the privacy that the general public expects to have from its government and that is exactly why nearly all developed nations have dropped such policies before they’ve been implemented.
As expected the usual tropes for these kinds of policies have been trotted out, initially under the guise of a requirement for national security. I’d concede that point if it wasn’t for the fact that mass surveillance has not proved to be effective in combating terrorism, something which the critics of the policy were quick to point out. The rhetoric has then shifted away from national security to local security with Abbott saying that the metadata will help them track down peadophiles and child traffickers. Suffice to say if surveillance of this nature doesn’t help at a national level then I highly doubt its effectiveness at the lower levels and “think of the children” arguments like this are nothing more than an appeal to emotion.
Yesterday Abbott was pressed to give some hard figures on just how much this scheme would end up costing and he retorted with the rather ineloquent quip that it would be an “explosion in an unsolved crime“. When pressed the figure he gave was $300 million, estimated to be less than 1% of the total $40 billion that the entire telecommunications sector is estimated to be worth. That figure has apparently been sourced from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) however the details of that figure have not been made public. In all honesty I cannot see how that figure can be accurate given the amount of data we’re talking about and the retention times required.
To put it in perspective Australians consumed something on the order of 1 Exabyte in 6 months up to June last year which is a 50% increase on the year previous. The amount of metadata on that data would be a fraction of that and, taking the same 1% liberty that Abbott seems intent on using, you get something like 50 Petabytes worth of storage required. Couple that with the fact that it won’t be stored in one place (negating economies of scale), the infrastructure requirements to provide access to it and the personnel required to fullfil requests and that $300 million figure starts to look quite shakey. Indeed the Communications Alliance in Australia has estimated it to be between $500 million and $700 million which casts doubt over how accurate Abbott’s lowball figure is.
Honestly this legislation stinks no matter which way you cut it and the rhetoric that the incumbent government has been using to defend it speaks directly to that. These policies are just simply not effective in what they set out to achieve and the only tangible result we’ll ever see from them will be an increased cost to accessing the Internet and a reduction in the expectation of privacy. I do hope Abbott keeps harping on about it though as the more he talks the more it seems likely that we’ll be able to cement the One Term Tony phrase in the history books.
There seems to be this small section of my brain that’s completely disconnected from reality. At every turn with the Liberal’s and the NBN it’s been the part of my head that’s said “Don’t worry, I’m sure Turnbull and co will be honest this time around” and every single time it has turned out to be wrong. At every turn these “independent” reports have been stacked with personnel that all have vested interests in seeing Turnbull’s views come to light no matter how hard they have to bend the facts in order to do so. Thus all the reports that have come out slamming Labor’s solution are not to be trusted and the latest report, the vaulted cost benefit analysis that the Liberals have always harped on about, is a another drop on the gigantic turd pile that is the Liberal’s NBN.
The problems with this cost-benefit analysis started long before the actual report was released. Late last year Turnbull appointed Henry Ergas as the head of the panel of experts that would be doing the cost-benefit analysis. The problem with this appointment is that he’d already published many pieces on the NBN before which where not only critical of the NBN but were also riddled with factual inaccuracies. So his opinion of the NBN was already well known prior to starting this engagement and thus he was not capable of providing a truly independent analysis, regardless of how he might want to present it. However in the interests of fairness (even though Turnbull won’t be doing so) let’s judge the report on it’s merits so we can see just how big this pile of horseshit is.
The report hinges primarily on a metric called “Willingness to Pay (WTP)” which is what Australians would be willing to pay for higher broadband speeds. The metric is primarily based around data gathered by the Institute for Choice which surveyed around 3,000 Australians about their current broadband usage and then showed them some alternative plans that would be available under the NBN. Problem is the way these were presented were not representative of all the plans available nor did they factor in things like the speed not being guaranteed on FTTN vs guaranteed speed on FTTP. So essentially all this was judging was people’s willingness to change to another kind of plan and honestly was not reflective of whether or not they’d want to pay more for higher broadband speeds.
Indeed this is even further reflected in the blended rate of probabilities used to determine the estimation of benefits with a 50% weighting applied to the Institute for Choice data and a 25% modifier to the other data (take-up demand and technical bandwidth demand) which, funnily enough, find in favour of the FTTP NBN solution. Indeed Table I makes it pretty clear that whenever there was multiple points of data the panel of experts decided to swing the percentages in ways that were favourable to them rather than providing an honest view of the data that they had. If the appointment of a long anti-NBN campaigner wasn’t enough to convince you this report was a total farce then this should do the trick.
However what really got me about this report was summed up perfectly in this quote:
The panel would not disclose the costs of upgrading [to] FTTP compared with other options, which were redacted from the report, citing “commercial confidentiality associated with NBN Co’s proprietary data”.
What the actual fuck.
So a completely government owned company is citing commercial in confidence for not disclosing data in a report that was commissioned by the government? Seriously, what the fuck are you guys playing at here? It’s obvious that if you included the cost of upgrading a FTTN network to FTTP, which has been estimated to cost at least $21 billion extra, then the cost-benefit would swing wildly in the direction of FTTP. Honestly I shouldn’t be surprised at this point as the report has already taken every step possible to avoid admitting that a FTTP solution is the better option. Hiding the upgrade cost, which by other reports commissioned by the Liberals is to be required in less than 5 years after completion of their FTTN NBN, is just another fact they want they want to keep buried.
Seriously, fuck everything about Turnbull and his bullshit. They’ve commissioned report after report, done by people who have vested interests or are in Turnbull’s favour, that have done nothing to reflect the reality of what the NBN was and what it should be. This is just the latest heaping on the pile, showcasing that the Liberals have no intention of being honest nor implementing a solution that’s to the benefit of all Australians. Instead they’re still focused on winning last year’s election and we’re all going to suffer because of it.
Copyright law in Australia isn’t as cut and dry as many believe it to be. Whilst some of our laws are in line with what the general public thinks they are (I.E. United States based) there’s a lot of things that are more draconian, like the lack of safe harbor provisions, and others that are a lot more lax like the lack of any formal infringement notification systems. This has often been cited as one of the main reasons why piracy is so rampant in Australia although that’s really only a minor part of the equation. Still this hasn’t stopped rights holders from lobbying members of our parliament into getting the laws changed and a recently leaked discussion paper, from the offices of Senator Brandis and Minister Turnbull, showcases a rather disturbing future for Australian copyright.
The discussion paper reads as a wish list of measures that rights holders would like to see implemented that would be used to curb copyright infringement behaviour within Australia, taking inspiration from similar schemes overseas. The proposed measures will be familiar to anyone who’s been involved in the copyright debate ranging from requiring ISPs to take “reasonable action” against infringing users (something our High Court has ruled against in the past), blocking websites that facilitate infringement and the measures required to support those processes. There are some potential positive questions for discussion in there, like the expansion of safe harbor provisions, but the rest of them will only cause more headaches than they will solve.
The first discussion point around ISP’s taking “reasonable steps” towards discouraging users from engaging in copyright infringement is a blatant attempt to skirt around the high court’s previous ruling that there are no such steps that an ISP can take. Essentially it comes down to a question of liability as increasing the exposure that the ISPs have make them a better target for litigation than the thousands of individuals beneath them do. The worst thing about this is that it will most certainly lead to increased costs for consumers with no benefits for anyone but the rights holders themselves. Honestly this smacks of the “mandatory voluntary” system that Conroy proposed, and then swiftly abandoned, all those years ago. If it didn’t work then I fail to see how it could work now.
The second point revolves around blocking some sites outright which they’re proposing to do at the ISP level. Now the paper doesn’t go into details about how the site would be blocked, just that injunctions could be granted, however we know that whatever method they use will end up being ineffectual. DNS blacklisting, IP blocks and all other methods that other countries have used in the past simply do not work in an environment with users with a modicum of technical experience. Heck there are dozens of browser extensions which help with this and there’s already a healthy number of Australians completely circumventing any ISP level blocking through the use of VPNs. So realistically the discussion point about what matters should be considered in granting an injunction are moot as it won’t stop the site from being available.
The last 3 points dig into what the impacts will be (both in terms of reducing infringement and the cost to business) as well as asking if there are any alternative measures that can be taken. Honestly I feel these are the points that should be front and center rather than the previous two I mentioned as this is the real crux of the copyright issue in Australia. In terms of the discussion paper though they feel like afterthoughts, each given a brief paragraph with a one liner question following them. It really looks like the other points are, essentially, already agreed to and these are just there to placate those who feel that they need to have their voice heard.
What this discussion paper completely misses is the real issue here: the lack of content systems that are on the same level available overseas. The Australian tax is no longer just catch cry, it’s a fact, and the residents of this country have voted with their wallets. Indeed the high use of Netflix within Australia shows that we’re ready, willing and able to pay for the services should rights holders be willing to provide them but instead this paper wants to focus on the stick rather than the carrot.
If Brandis and Turnbull are serious about copyright reform in Australia they should be looking into what they can do to encourage those services to come Australia rather than attempt to dissuade people from pirating their content. History has shown that the latter can never be prevented, no matter what legislation you put in or DRM you attempt to ram down the customer’s throats. The latter has a tried and true history of being successful and I have no doubts that rights holders would see similar success in Australia should they choose to bring their services here. For now though it seems like they’re still stuck in the past, trying to protect business models that are failing in the new Internet powered economy. They’ll have to come around eventually, it’s just a question of whether they do it before someone else does.
Oh wait they already are. Time to wake the fuck up.
There’s 2 main reasons why I’ve avoided writing about the NBN for the last couple months. For the most part it’s been because there’s really been nothing of note to report and sifting through hours of senate talks to find a nugget of new information to write about isn’t really something I’m particularly enthused about doing. Secondly as someone who’s deeply interested in technology (and makes his living out of services that could make heavy use of the NBN) the current state of the project is, frankly, infuriating and I don’t think people enjoy reading about how angry I am. Still it seems that the Liberal’s MTM NBN plan has turned from a hypothetical farce into a factual one and I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to lay down criticism where criticism is due.
The slogan the Liberal’s ran with during their election campaign was “Fast. Affordable, Sooner.” promising that they’d be able to deliver at least 25Mbps to every Australian by the end of 2016 with that ramping up to 50Mbps by the end of 2019. This ended up being called the Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) NBN which would now include the HFC rather than overbuilding them and would switch to FTTN technology rather than FTTP. The issues with this plan were vast and numerous (ones I’ve covered in great detail in the past) and suffice to say the technology community in Australia didn’t buy into the ideas one bit. Indeed as time as progressed the core promises of the plan have dropped off one by one with NBNCo now proceeding with the MTM solution despite a cost-benefit analysis not being completed and the speed guarantee is now gone completely. If that wasn’t enough it’s come to my attention that even though they’ve gone ahead with the solution NBNCo hasn’t been able to connect a single customer to the FTTN solution.
It seems the Liberal’s promises simply don’t stand up to reality, fancy that.
The issues they seem to be encountering with deploying their FTTN trial are what many of the more vocal critics had been harping on for a long time, primarily the power and maintenance requirements that FTTN cabinets would require. Their Epping trial has faced several months of delays because they weren’t able to source adequate power, a problem which currently doesn’t have a timeline for a solution yet. The FTTP NBN which was using Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology does not suffer from this kind of issue at all and this was showing in the ramp up in deployment numbers that NBNCo was seeing before it stopped its FTTP rollouts. If just the trial of the MTM solution is having this many issues then it follows that the full rollout will fare no better and that puts an axe to the Liberal’s election promises.
We’re rapidly approaching the end of this year which means that the timeline the Liberals laid out is starting to look less and less feasible. Even if the trial site gets everyone on board before the end of this year that still gives only 2 years for the rest of the infrastructure to be rolled out. The FTTP NBN wasn’t even approaching those numbers so there’s no way in hell that the MTM solution would be able to accomplish that, even with their little cheat of using the HFC networks.
So there goes the idea of us getting the NBN sooner but do any of their other promises hold true?
Well the speed guarantee went away some time ago so even the Liberals admit that their solution won’t be fast so the only thing they might be able to argue is that they can do it cheaper. Unfortunately for Turnbull his assumption that Telstra would just hand over the copper free of charge something which Telstra had no interest in doing. Indeed as part of the renegotiation of the contract with Telstra NBNCo will be paying some $150 million for access to 200,000 premises worth of copper which, if extrapolated to all of Australia, would be around $5.8 billion. This does not include the cabinets or remediating any copper that can’t handle FTTN speeds which will quickly eat into any savings on the deal. That’s not going into the ongoing costs these cabinets will incur during their lifetimes which is an order of magnitude more than what a GPON network would.
I know I’m not really treading any new ground by writing all this but the MTM NBN is beyond a joke now; a failed election promise that’s done nothing to help the Liberal’s waning credibility and will only do damage to Australia’s technology sector. Even if they do get voted out come next election it’ll be years before the damage can be undone which is a royal shame as the NBN was one of the best bits of policy to come out of the tumultuous time that was Labor’s last 2 terms in office. Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back on all my rants on this topic and laugh about it but until that day comes I’ll just be yet another angry IT sector worker, forever cursing the government that took away my fibre filled dream.