– Is this the NBN’s grandmother?

Click to go to video

Here’s a possible pointer to the glorious future the NBN will bring to country Australia.

Made in 1992, this Telecom Australia (former name of Telstra) promotional video touts the huge benefits broadband will create for business in Australia. Seems to get it right on most things despite the lousy acting, lousy script, lousy props and big glasses. My memory’s hazy about what you could do and couldn’t do in those days but I do recall at a meeting in 1991 seeing a portable projector attached to a laptop for the first time (worked liked an epidiascope IIRC).

So far as the period is concerned, I notice the boss doesn’t say please, blokes can’t touch type, the Japanese take laser copies and workers seem to be a trifle more physically familiar with their colleagues than would probably be acceptable today. Oh, and billion dollar investments were won on a night’s work, a few nods and some pretty pictures. My favourite bit is the map of the Red Water Creek plant that’s being printed in part 3 — do you recognize it? The biggest advances since 1992 have probably been made in the quality of corporate videos!

Note there are three parts to the video but they’re pretty short. BTW the video’s at Paleofuture, which is certainly one of the most interesting sites I’ve seen in a while.


Is being “visionary” sufficient to justify new infrastructure?

All the talk around at the moment about ‘visionary’ infrastructure projects like High Speed Rail (HSR), the National Broadband Network (NBN) and a rail link to Melbourne Airport, reminds me how much Australians love to gamble.

Big and costly projects that don’t stack up on conventional evaluation criteria are often justified as being in the ‘national interest’; or the result of ‘big thinking’; or comprehensible in the “big picture’; or contributing to ‘nation building’.

Proponents frequently resort to the Field of Dreams argument: “if it’s built, they will come”*. Some cite ambitious projects like the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the Ord River Scheme and the Sydney Opera House, contending that they would not have been built if it weren’t for some big thinking. However they conveniently omit to mention the downsides of these projects, or any ‘visionary’ schemes that are widely thought to be disappointments (let alone any that were unmitigated disasters).

More informed proponents will focus on the foresight of previous generations who built infrastructure like the national and urban rail systems, water supply and sewerage systems and the electricity generation and distribution networks. Some even mention the elaborate freeways within and between our major cities.

The argument is commonly put that if the visionary politicians, engineers and financiers of a century and more ago hadn’t looked beyond economic and financial criteria at the time, much of the infrastructure we value today would not be available for the use of current generations. And we are very fortunate they did, so this line of argument goes, because it would be impossibly expensive to provide infrastructure on that scale today.

That’s all very well, but I don’t think this interpretation tells the whole story. Read the rest of this entry »


Will miners, retirees and the NBN drive Tony Burke’s decentralisation agenda?

Grey areas show parts of Victoria without access to Broadband (mainly ADSL)

It’s easy to see why that most Whitlamesque of policies – decentralisation – has been revived in this election campaign. Not only does it offer the familiar prospect of more jobs and economic activity in regional areas, it can also be sold as improving the quality of life in our crowded, heaving cities.

However I think the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, is stretching credibility with his latest claim about what’s driving decentralisation.

Speaking at the National Press Club debate last Thursday, Mr Burke argued that the decentralisation debate is different now to what it was 40 years ago. Then, he argues, it was all about moving people to regional areas by relocating government departments. Now however decentralisation is:

“being driven by the market through the movement of retirees, through the mining boom and through the roll-out of the National Broadband Network, which allows businesses that previously could only be located in the heart of the CBD to locate in other areas”

His use of the present tense is curious because there’s little evidence of actual decentralisation away from Australia’s two ‘super cities’ – Sydney and Melbourne – to regional centres over the last five years. Sydney grew 1.4% p.a. over 2004-05 whereas regional NSW grew by 1.1%. In Victoria, Melbourne grew 2% p.a. but the remainder of the State grew 1.4% p.a.

But it’s the drivers of growth he cites that I find even more curious. Read the rest of this entry »