Saturday, 14 October 2006

Bandwidth on the run

This past week I've been to this convention held at the Hyatt hotel on Collins St (Melbourne): Changing government through IT.
It was pretty interesting, but in typical fashion for such conventions it lacked in the practicality side of things; there wasn't much I could take away from it in order to improve what we do at work. There were, however, plenty of "let's pat ourselves on the back because we're so good" elements in there.
One presentation I did find quite interesting, even though it has nothing to do with what I do at work, was a presentation on the state of broadband internet connectivity in the state of Victoria.
The presentation was quite flattering. Apparently, Victoria is the best networked state in Australia as far as broadband connectivity goes; which makes sense, as compared to New South Wales or Western Australia it's small and it does have one major population center where most of the people in the state are.
But then things got to the less flattering aspects.
Due to Telstra's policies, which are more to do with profits and politics than to actually serving the people who still own most of its shares - the people of Australia - Telstra has not been laying any fiber optics infrastructure. Current legislation says that houses have to be connected to the copper network, so that's what they do, but that's also the only thing they do.
The problem there is that although copper can support broadband, it will only do so to a rather limited extent. To the best of my knowledge, copper could get you up to 20 megabit per second speeds; fiber, on the other hand, brings about performance of a higher scale altogether, starting at 100 meg before you get to blink your eye.
Now, because the state of Victoria is the place to be, and because elections are coming up and Bracks wants to seem as if he's at the front edge of technology, the Victorian government did a few experiments in newly built suburbs. They got this contractor to lay down a fiber network to the newly built houses, something which is pretty easy to do (which highlights Telstra's crime even further). Apparently, the people living there are happy.
That's where the presentation ended. Then, during question time, somebody from the crowd asked "well, what about brown fields" - meaning houses that are not in newly built projects; that is, houses where you and I live. The answer to that question was, for me, the highlight of the presentation: there are no plans for that. It's not only that no one is doing the laying of a fiber based network; no one has any idea how to go about doing it in the first place!

So where are we, then, in the broadband arena?
  1. We are at one of the most expensive countries in the Western world, as far as the price you and I have to pay to get ourselves connected. I was inquisitive enough to find what seems to be a good deal, but most of the people pay more than I do and end up receiving less that what I do.
  2. And what do Australians get with their broadband connection? Well, the vast majority of them get a 256k connection. Look at up and you will see that no one in this world other than Telstra and Australian authorities considers 256k to be broadband. That takes at least 512k, and usually the quote stand higher than that at 750k.
  3. Worst of all, when I do use the internet with my 1500k connection, I am virtually always seen to be connected at much slower speeds. In fact, while I see my ISP at 1500k, most American websites, which is where most of my surfing is, see me at speeds just a bit higher than 100k. And that goes to show how bad the infrastructure connecting Australia to the world is.
So what are the conclusions? I have two.
The first is that in this age of high energy costs and major internet related innovations, where Australia can make tons of benefits out of broadband related connectivity, Australia is lagging behind.
The second is with regards to the people in charge who are supposed to ensure Australia is not lagging behind but is rather at the forefront. Well, they are obviously not doing their jobs properly! Instead of doing nothing but tell us how prosperous we are - mostly because we dig up stuff from the ground - they should stop passing new laws that consolidate our media to prevent us from knowing the truth about what they are doing, and actually get a move on with doing stuff.
I guess what I'm trying to provide you with is another reason why we need to vote the Howard government away.

No comments: