Why Aussie geeks should not support Kevin Rudd’s broadband plan

23 03 2007

Geeks, techies, educators and innovators across Australia were excited to hear about Kevin Rudd’s plan for a high speed broadband optical fibre rollout to 98% of Australia. There is no doubt that Australia is a “broadband backwater”. The horror quotes from the Luddites of Australian politics, such as Ron Boswell’s “We’ve got adequate broadband for the people out there”, Helen Coonan’s “Internet users in most Australian capital cities should be happy with the speed of their broadband connection” and (my favourite, the biggest luddite in history), Richard Alston’s “Well for example, people will tell you that pornography is one of the major reasons why there’s been a high take-up rate in South Korea. I haven’t confirmed that at first instance but I’ve been there, I’ve looked at what’s happening.”, say it all. Our politicians don’t have a technical clue.
However, while I fully support the idea of optical fibre to 98% of Australia, it has to be funded and planned in a responsible manner. You may have read this little gem: “The Future Fund is full of money from telecommunications from the sale of Telstra, so in a way it’s not inappropriate that money is spent on telecommunications” from Democrats leader Lynn Allison. The origin of the money in the Future Fund is not the issue Lynn Allison, it’s what it’s been earmarked for. Labor cannot guarantee to cover public service superannuation liabilities, not if it’s going to be spending that money. There are no guarantees in investment. This is Superannuation money that people have been paying their whole lives. If it was my money, I would not want anyone spending it and promising they’ll pay it back by 2020. I doubt Kevin Rudd will be leaving his Superannuation in there until 2020, so he personally won’t be paying any price. This plan is a carrot dangled for the younger generation, who aren’t owed any money by the Future Fund. The Future Fund is not spending money, it’s a debt owed by the government that they have an obligation to pay. The Australian Government made a mistake a long time ago, by not putting aside money for their future superannuation obligations for retiring workers, just like General Motors. What do you think will happen if a large number of public servants don’t get the Superannuation they need for retirement? They’re going to be an additional drain on taxpayers in the welfare system. This money is not just for politicians, it’s for teachers, police, doctors, nurses and other staff working in the public sector, paid by the government. For Generations X & Y, this may mean your parents moving in with you when they’re no longer able to work, as they can’t afford housing without their Superannuation and welfare money will be limited with a reduced workforce. Don’t be fooled by this shiny offer, read the fine print. I want that dream broadband network too, I just don’t think this is the way to fund it.
We don’t just need faster broadband, we need a complete project plan for ongoing infrastructure building, maintenance and future upgrades. This is not the last time a communications network will require upgrades, how do they intend to pay for the next one?
Optical fibre is a great plan for Australia (we need Fibre To The Home (FTTH) not Fibre To The Node (FTTN), but stealing from the future to pay for the mistakes of the past doesn’t work. It’s how we built this broadband backwater in the first place, by cutting corners and hoping someone in the future will fix it. All Australian politicians need to use greater foresight in policy, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years, not just planning ahead until the next election. Each side doesn’t want to do too good a job, for fear a future opposition might take the credit. Get your bloody act together Labour and Liberals. Try working together to actually solve a problem for the good of the country, instead of wasting time name calling, chest beating and buggering around instead of actually getting things done.