In defending the FTTP NBN I’ve seen nearly every argument imaginable as to why we shouldn’t be doing it. Whilst I can understand the concerns around rollout times and the total cost the NBN stands as one of the few multi-term, nation-wide infrastructure projects that has tangible benefits that will last for decades to come. Some of the more esoteric arguments I’ve received have hinged on the idea that consumers are quite ok with the current state of Australian Internet and that anything above that is a wasteful exercise that will only support consumers of pornography and illegal downloads. This could not be further from the truth but it still seems to remain as a valid talking point for anti-NBN stalwarts.
Shown above are the take up rates from NBNCo released back in March this year and it’s pretty easy to discern a common trend here. Whilst there are a couple places showing stagnant growth most are showing very strong upward trends. Indeed most of them track the 2 highest take up rate areas pretty closely and so it is reasonable to conclude that they will eventually all see similar adoption rates. Considering that the service is still in its infancy overall take up rates of 30% are pretty amazing and will only get better as the offerings from various ISPs improve. So there definitely seems to be a demand for the NBN although the question then becomes do people want higher speeds or are they just looking for a more reliable Internet connection?
The report that NBNCo presented to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Broadband network contains some pretty in depth analysis of the current consumers of the NBN and the data is quite telling. Initially it was thought that the bulk of the NBN’s customers would be on the lowest plan possible (12Mbps down /1Mbps up), on the order of 49% or so with the next biggest sector being 25/10 at 27%. Actual deployed numbers differ from that significantly with the lowest sector accounting for 39% and the next biggest sector being the top tier plan (100/40) with 31%. This means that there’s a large number of Australians who want the fastest Internet they can get their hands on and the majority of them want speeds above what they’re currently getting.
This echoes the sentiment that’s been seen oversees with similar projects like Google Fiber in Kansas City. This runs contrary to the Liberal’s position that 25Mbps would be enough for the average household as it seems like many would like to take advantage of higher speeds. Whilst its looking more and more like the NBN will remain untouched in its current form (although it might end up being rolled out by Telstra) those ideas still seem to permeate the rhetoric of NBN detractors. As the numbers show Australians are craving faster, more stable Internet connections and given the opportunity they’ll take the best options available to them.
Honestly I know this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, especially considering that the rhetoric has died down considerably since the election, but the idea that the NBN isn’t needed, or even wanted, by the Australian public is just so wrong that it borders on offensive. The NBN is going to elevate Australia to being one of the most connected countries in the world, rivalling some of the top technologically advanced nations. I know that I, as well as many of my technically inclined friends, have big plans for when those high speed connections become available and I’m sure many businesses will have the same.
Regular readers of this blog will know I’m no fan of our Senator Conroy and his proposed Internet filter, even though I have him to thank for the original creation of this blog and it’s subsequent success. Apart from delay after delay there’s been little to no movement from Conroy on the policy despite it being increasingly unpopular. Initially I was able to write him off as just a figurehead for the Rudd government’s slight bent towards a nanny state for Australia but as time has gone by Conroy has dissolved what small amount of hope I held out that that was true. Conroy believes in the policy wholly and damn those who would oppose him.
Most recently the biggest talking about the Internet filter was that it was going to be delayed until after the election, hoping to skirt some backlash over the unpopular policy. Not only did that ignore the fact that tech crowd saw this move for what it was (and would likely vote accordingly) soon after the announcement they back peddled with almost breakneck speed. Then, in a move that didn’t surprise anyone, they went ahead and delayed it anyway:
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says he plans to introduce legislation for the Federal Government’s internet filter in the second half of the year.
Senator Conroy had intended to introduce the legislation in the first half of 2010.
The Government announced the filter two years ago as part of its cyber safety program to protect children from pornography and offensive material. Last year it ran tests on the system.
But the plan has been criticised by internet users who claim it will slow download speeds and lead to unwarranted censorship.
Right so you prematurely announced that you would delay introducing the legislation (in a vain effort to save votes) and back flipped on that position (to try and save face that you were delaying the policy) and then went ahead and delayed the policy (in an effort to save votes?!?!?!?). Not only has Conroy shown dedication to incredibly unpopular policy he’s beginning to show complete disrespect for the exact people he’s meant to be representing. The tech crowd had little love for Conroy before and any support for the man has now vanished in a public display of incompetence. Whilst there are many bigger issues that will cost the Rudd government votes they really can’t afford to lose yet another block of voters, and Conroy isn’t doing them any favours.
Still all of that could be easily written off as political games save for the fact that Conroy has launched multiple vitriolic attacks on several Internet giants. Now granted the ones who wield the most power in the Internet world are the ones who carry the most responsibility and none are as big as Google. Still the culture and policies implemented by Google are really some of the best on the Internet when it comes to user privacy and security. This didn’t stop Conroy from launching several attacks at them, with the latest ratcheting up the crazy to whole new levels:
Instead, Conroy launched tirades on search giant Google and social networking site Facebook over privacy issues raised with both corporations over the past week. The Senator called Google’s collection of Wi-Fi data the “single greatest privacy breach in history“, and attacked the social networking site over a failure to keep user’s data private.
That classy one liner I’ve bolded for effect is probably one of the best bits of hyperbolic rhetoric that I’ve seen Conroy spew forth. The Wi-Fi data that Google collected was initially only meant to be the SSIDs (the wireless network name) which they could then use to augment their geo-location software, ala Skyhook. Unfortunately they also captured some payload data as well during the course of their collection and got slammed by the German government because of it. Realistically though the data was fairly useless to them as they couldn’t have been in range of the access points for any meaningful amount of time, so the data they would have couldn’t have been more than a few MB at most. Additionally if you had set up security on your wireless access then the data they have is completely and utterly unusable as it would appear encrypted to anyone who captured it. Saying that this was a breach of privacy is a best misleading and at worst completely ignorant of the actual facts.
Conroy doesn’t stop there either, hoping to drum up support by lambasting yet another Internet giant with his choice brand of ignorant vitriol:
The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has attacked the social networking site Facebook and its former college student founder for what he says is its ”complete disregard” for privacy.
Senator Conroy is under fire from many in the internet industry for his proposed mandatory net filter. He has previously attacked Google, a key critic of the filtering plan, but last night in a Senate estimates hearing turned his attention to Facebook.
”Facebook has also shown a complete disregard for users’ privacy lately,” Senator Conroy said in response to a question from a government senator.
I’ll relent for a second and say that Facebook has had some trouble recently when it has come to user’s privacy. However the fact remains that they can’t reveal any information about you that you don’t give them in the first place and putting information online that you don’t expect anyone else to see is akin to leaving your belongings on the sidewalk and expecting them not to get taken. Facebook may have had their troubles trying to find their feet when it comes to user privacy but their response has been rapid albeit somewhat confused. They’ve heard the criticisms and are responding to them, hardly what I would call a “complete disregard” for user privacy.
Conroy has shown time and time again that he has little respect for the industry he’s meant to represent as the minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. His constant, vitriolic attacks on those who’ve been in the industry for a long time (much longer than he’s been a minister for such things) shows a flawed belief that his vision for Australia’s digital future is the right one. I and the vast majority of the technical crowd have opposed the Conroy and his Internet filter from the start and in the coming election I’d bet my bottom dollar that you’ll see a noticeable swing against him for his repeated blows against us. It would seem that the only way to kill the Internet filter is to remove him from office and it is my fervent hope that the good people of Victoria will do Australia a service and vote accordingly this year.
Ah budget time, it’s always an interesting time of year as you get to see what the government has planned for the coming year and the rhetoric spin machines go into overdrive as both sides of parliament start duking it out over every talking point they can find. For me it usually entails a couple hours of good analysis of the changes so I can see if there’s any new measures that I’m able to exploit or if my particular industry might see some changes to encourage or discourage growth. Still it’s no secret that the whole thing is a rather dry affair (I skipped out on a friend’s invitation to have budget drinks at a local pub, even alcohol can’t make the delivery interesting) and I’ll forgive you if you tune out now, but if you read on I promise to make it worth your while
Rather than link you to a veritable tsunami of articles that analyze the various ins and outs of the budget I’ll just give you a link directly to a quick overview to the whole thing direct from the horse’s mouth. On the surface there’s really nothing amazing about it, no crazy reforms or highly controversial schemes that haven’t already been duked out in front of the public over the past few weeks. Most criticisms I’ve heard of the budget thus far focus on the government’s ability to follow through on the plans, citing past broken promises (ignoring the fact that it wasn’t Labor which caused them to fall through) and making accusations that it all hinges on things that haven’t yet passed parliament. Most of these accusations can be traced right back to Liberal party rhetoric and frankly, whilst they may have raised a couple points that need discussion, I’m starting to get tired of all their talk (more on that later).
One of the biggest things to come out of this budget is the so called Resource Super Profits Tax. In essence it’s the Australian governments attempt to get a bigger slice of the current resource boom that Australia is experience on the back of the heavy demand stemming mostly from China. Initially I was appalled at the idea as it felt a lot like a grab at a profitable industry just to boost the coffers to put the budget back in surplus sooner (which honestly doesn’t matter as much as the Liberals will have you believe). I mean what would happen if we had an IT boom in Australia? Would we then be subject to a super profit tax because we suddenly became desirable for hosting services (which is quite possible if the NBN goes ahead)? Diving deeper however it appears that this idea actually came direct from the mining giants themselves, hoping to seek a simpler system rather than the complicated arrangement they currently have. My sentiments echo that of Martin’s post I just linked; the belly aching we’re seeing from mining companies lobbyists is a disagreement over price more than it is them actually being hurt by this new tax.
An interesting development is the government’s idea of implementing a pre-fill or standard deduction option to the current tax return system. Basically this allows about 25% of all Australians to be able to claim a standard flat fee from the government (to the tune of $500, increasing to $1000 in 2013) without having to go through the hassle of filling out a full tax return. It’s a good idea, one of the few that the government is implementing from the Henry Review, and is very similar to many systems that are implemented in other countries. The main saving comes from the estimated 8.5 hours that every tax paying Australian spends doing their taxes every year, totalling a whopping 100 million hours spent collectively (not including the back end processing that the ATO has to do as well). For someone like me who has a rather complicated tax arrangement it’s really of no benefit but for those 6 million+ Australians it will help I’m really glad to see a measure like this go through, although I’m sure accountants Australia wide are none too happy with it.
Two major areas of funding are infrastructure and renewable energy. Whilst the infrastructure spending is mostly just a continuation of the spending that has been going on for a couple years the resources allocated to renewable energy and a skilled workforce are welcome changes. For renewables (full disclosure: my dad is the teacher of renewable energy at the Belconnen TAFE and I share his passion for it) there’s really nothing to lose in researching such technology. Whilst most are still in their infancy we’re on the cusp of having some real significant breakthroughs and Australia is well positioned to take advantage of them. Really with our vast amounts of unarable land and swaths of coastline we’re an idea place for wind and solar (both photovoltaic and thermal) and with such strong opposition to other clean forms of energy (read:nuclear, despite us having about 40% of the world’s uranium in our soil) renewables are the way to go, and I’m going to keenly watch all developments in this space.
There are some benefits that also speak to me personally, like the reduction in company tax rate and instant asset write off for small businesses. As someone who’s just about to lash out into the cruel world of being a technology start up any benefit I can get my hands on will be gladly taken and made use of. All the bits of technology I require to get my projects underway neatly fit under that $5000 limit for instant deduction, hopefully softening the blow somewhat to my own personal finances whilst I attempt to get my business off the ground. Whilst these changes are the ones that hinge on the super tax going through I’d still bet on it being passed, albeit in a different form to what it is now.
Now that I’ve gotten that all out of the way I’d like to take some time to launch a load flame laden bloggery right at the Liberal party. For the past 5 months the Labor government has been under constant attack from the Liberal party who have been taking every shot they possibly can whilst failing to deliver anything substantial of their own. To be honest I had expected as much as after the leadership spill saw Howard’s attack dog Tony Abbott take the opposition leader’s crown. Whilst I can appreciate that criticism of any policy is required to make sure it is robust I’ve heard little to no arguments that can be rightly substantiated with hard facts. That usually wouldn’t be a problem but it seems that the constant barrage of vitriol from the Liberal party is starting to have a dramatic effect on the Labor government’s approval rating with the populace at large, and that’s worrying for a couple reasons.
It’s no secret that I’m liberal (little l there folks) with a slight bent for libertarian went it suits me, so you should probably take this all with a little bit of conservative salt. The current rhetoric from the Liberal party is hinging on old ideals that Labor can’t be trusted with money (they always spend it~¹) and that the Liberals are the best to handle the economy (they always run a surplus and interest rates are always lower~). However if you do even a small amount of research you’ll see that traditionally the Labor government has been in power when the world economy at large is suffering. Keynesian economics advocates government deficit spending in time of a recession and it has been proven time and time again that this either softens the blow or stop a recession from happening entirely. Liberal rhetoric would have you believe that if the government did nothing we would’ve been fine regardless which shows a reckless disregard for the facts and decades of research into the matter. The interest rate line is dragged out time and time again, but isn’t it strange that the last year has seen interest rates lower than that of the previous governments entire time in office? That would be the line I’d tow if I wasn’t so blind to the fact that interest rates are subject to external pressures that are not under any Australian government’s control. The sooner this myth and the fear that comes with it dies the better.
Then there’s the idea that the Liberal government would do better than Labor at the helm of this country. Right now nothing could be further from the truth as whilst the party has managed to stabilize itself for the past 5 months it has spent most of that time being cynical whilst doing little other work. You’ve got an ultra-conservative at the helm, one climate change denier (he is a NOT SKEPTIC) in the front bench (with one recently leaving) and none that seem to harbor any respect for fact and rational thought, although I fully admit this could be far more due to party politics and such issues being dealt with behind closed doors. Currently it seems that the public perception is that they’re not sure about the Rudd government but they have yet to seriously consider the alternative: an Abbott government. Pressing a few not-so-politically inclined friends on the matter shows that they’d rather not have the latter, but hadn’t considered opposing Rudd meant getting Abbott as PM.
The budgets are always a big talking point for both parties and even more so in an election year. The Rudd government has delivered a sensible budget that aims to continue the economic growth that it managed to sustain throughout a global recession and keep Australia being the economic power that it has become. The rhetoric from the Liberal government should be analyzed and then discarded for the rubbish that it is and hopefully the Australian public sees that the current government is doing the right thing by us all and the alternative is a much darker Australia for us all.
¹FYI a tilde at the end of a sentence on the Internet typically indicates a sarcastic, flirty or playful remark.
In all honesty I’m starting to get bored with bashing the Internet filter. I’ve attacked it from almost every angle and there’s no way that the current idea that Conroy and his department have drummed up can be spun into something that I could wholeheartedly endorse. I’ve been willing to put my partial support behind a filter that at the very least lets you opt-out but even then I’m doing so because apart from killing the legislation completely it seems to be the only idea that’s gaining any traction in parliament. It’s been almost 2 years since the Rudd government started talking about a filter and many months have passed since it was supposed to be implemented and frankly I just keep hoping it will go away so I don’t have to think about it anymore.
It’s no secret that it’s not particularly popular policy, especially with our friendly Internet giants and overseas counterparts. This is especially true with the technology community who have polled overwhelmingly against the filter, to the tune of over 90%. There’s still been little study of what the wider Australian populace thinks about the policy but what has been done shows that most people don’t want the government nor ISPs to be in charge of what they or their children see on the Internet and the majority are concerned that once the filter has been implemented it will be abused for political purposes.
But who am I kidding, if you’re reading this blog it’s pretty much guaranteed you’re in opposition to this filter as well and you already know all these facts. What has just recently come to pass is the admission by omission of the government that even they don’t believe this is popular policy and they’re pushing it to the backburner so it doesn’t become an election issue:
KEVIN Rudd has put another election promise on the backburner with his controversial internet filtering legislation set to be shelved until after the next election. A spokeswoman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said yesterday the legislation would not be introduced next month’s or the June sittings of parliament.
With parliament not sitting again until the last week of August, the laws are unlikely to be passed before the election.
Labor promised before the last election it would force internet service providers to block access to illegal content such as child pornography and X-rated images.
With Conroy spouting such fervent rhetoric against those who would oppose the scheme you’d think that he was damned sure this was what the Australian public wanted and would do anything to see it passed. Being held back until after the election tells us a couple things. First Rudd doesn’t believe that pushing this through (and thus following through on an election promise) will win him any favours and you can be damned sure the tech crowd would vote against him in droves if he did. Secondly the rhetoric that Conroy spews constantly mirrors his own views quite consistently as it wasn’t him but one of his spokespeople who made the announcement. Had his belief in the filter been faltering in anyway you can be assured that he would be the one talking about it, since up until now he’s been the only one talking to the press about it.
Broken election promises are nothing new but when something like this, which started out as a proposal that no one cared about since NetAlert failed and it was going to be opt-in (even that apparently wasn’t feasible), gets pushed back again and again you start to question why it keeps happening. I’ve always been of the mind that the government is trying to let it die a slow and quiet death so that they can say they tried to do something but ramble off a list of excuses to save face. Traegically it seems that we’re doomed to a constant cycle of delays and rhetorical battles between the government and the wider world with no end in sight. If they would just hurry up and try to pass this thing we could hopefully see it shot down once and for all. It seems for now we will be denied this pleasure for at least another 5 months.
I’m not what you would call a garden variety sceptic. For the most part I let most things slide as there are enough people fighting the fight for me already. However if in conversation someone says something that is obviously incorrect or is based on hearsay and anecdotes I’ll usually point it out so that they have to prove their point. I often say to them that “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter, and I’m the best that’s around” since I’ve been known to use argumentative devices and sometimes questionable logic to get people to believe what I say. Once you develop critical thinking patterns it becomes quite easy to pick up on when someone is talking with authority on a topic they have no idea about. I guess that puts in me in the category of the casual sceptic, concerned with ensuring that everyone has the right information and makes their own decisions rather than accepting what they here without question.
It was then last night over my usual Thursday night drinks with friends that the topic of scepticism came up. For the most part my group of friends would fall into the casual sceptic category as we’re interested in facts and won’t blindly believe something until we’ve done our research. My fellow blogger then pulled out a copy of Richard Dawkin’s The Greatest Show on Earth a book which he said felt more like a transition away from the bible bashings that he was famous for and felt more rhetorical, something that is sorely lacking in the sceptic movement’s arguments. This then begged the question: Has the sceptic movement forgotten the art of rhetoric?
I read quite a lot of sceptical material and that’s because it appeals to me. This is probably in part due to my slight anti-mass-media bias as many of the online sceptic resources are targeted at major news outlets who are reporting misinformation. Additionally there’s something that I myself haven’t really thought of, and the sceptical pieces trigger that all too important research reflex in me that sends me off on a couple hour streak through online journals. However they’re preaching to the choir here as I’m already on their side. To the other side their argument isn’t persuasive at all, and comes off as an attack which only serves to strengthen their resolve.
It would then seem that most sceptics make the mistake of thinking that the people on the other side of their argument will be converted using the same techniques that would convince a fellow sceptic of their point. I came to realise this recently that hammering away at someone’s beliefs does not serve to improve their view of you or your argument. More you have to convince them that your side of the argument is the more sensible option, and this is usually done through the use of rhetorical devices and soft power techniques. Sceptics put forth a (usually) scientifically sound argument that would convince a like minded individual of their position but seem to give up in frustration when their argument falls on deaf ears.
Personally it feels like human nature to just assume that everyone thinks along the same lines as you do. It makes life considerably easier as you don’t have to spend half your time considering every aspect of someone in order to communicate with them. However it’s this assumption that seems act as a catalyst to the raging debate between sceptics and their targets. I’m sure one day we’ll see the rise of persuasive arguments from the sceptic movement and if they do it right they’ll get exactly what they’ve been fighting for.
That, or they could convert Oprah into a sceptic. 😉