Feelpinions on the Coalition NBN Policy

Malcolm Turnbull’s – and therefore the Coalition’s – alternative policy for a national broadband network was finally released this morning.

As a policy, not a bad one. In fact, it was a good policy way back when John Howard’s government proposed the same thing, Fibre to the Node.

It is also markedly better than the Opposition’s idea early in Abbott’s tenure which was to rely heavily on wireless, a policy that Turnbull knew – proven in this FTTN-reliant policy – to be flakey.

The problem is, FTTN was something we should have had some time ago and any responsible national telco should have done it. We know Telstra had that responsibility removed from it some time ago via the magic of privatisation and the systematic failure of both Labor and Coalition governments to enforce structural separation on Telstra before privatisation.

The fact there is just one single copper network means that the incumbent doesn’t have to do anything. So they don’t.

In fact, one of Turnbull’s older arguments about broadband is that the market will sort it out, which we know to be false. The philosophically similar hybrid fibre cable (HFC) networks of both Foxtel and Optus were halted before passing a really meaningful market penetration, with Foxtel in particular opting for satellite for cable television delivery.

Just so we’re clear, FTTN means that fibre will be rolled out from the existing telephone exchanges in both party’s policies. The Coalition’s policy will terminate the fibre at the node, or one of those green boxes or barrels you see around the streets. From then, your existing copper strand to your premises remains. However cruddy that might be, which in my case, is very.

Labor’s NBN brings the fibre to your home, meaning a far more stable, robust and inherently faster connection. No attenuation, so silly jiggery-pokery to fool the line into thinking it’s much fatter, it just works, because it’s not a radio signal down the line, it’s light.

The Coalition is playing a lot of silly games with this policy release. They say FTTN will cost significantly less than the $70bn-$90bn they say the Labor NBN will cost, and therefore are running with fantasy rather than reality.

They say their FTTN will cost just a tick under $30bn which is interesting because Howard’s FTTN was just over 20% of that, so attacking Labor for cost blowouts feels a little hollow.

They are asserting that broadband prices will rise by 2021 somewhere in the order of 50% when the market history defies that trend. My 500Gb plan is half what it was two years ago.

Crucially, the Coalition are not saying whether the wholly inappropriate line rental charge will still be charged on a FTTN connection. On the NBN it will not, so their price comparisons are dodgy for two reasons 

1. they’re made up; and 

2. ignore reality

So they don’t even make the grade as a decent deception let alone as a policy.

The policy also states that there will be no change between the plans users choose now (12mbps) and in 2021. That is rubbish and requires no explanation at all. Most of us get that on ADSL2.

The policy claims that Labor’s NBN destroys competition in the infrastructure, which is kind of true, but there isn’t any now because of the patchy HFC network and the wholly Telstra-owned copper network and exchanges. 

The difference is, the Labor NBN makes the providers compete on price rather than infrastructure, which is what consumers care about. In the real world, people just want to switch it on and make it go, they don’t care how they get it, as long as it’s good. FTTN is good but FTTH is better.

The Coalition also scraps the wholesale price limit, meaning that if you’re outside metro areas, good luck seeing either better broadband or lower pricing.

Turnbull has gone on television and radio today to sell the policy and keeps telling us how there’s plenty of life left in copper and with VDSL technology with vectoring, we can get to 100mbps.

 Great. The Labor NBN can and will easily hit 1Gbps, which not many of us need now, but it will be Something Many of us Need before too long. Oh, but if you live in a greenfield site, you’ll get the glass because it’s better than copper.

 Yeah, I know. Consistency is not a strong point in this policy either.

The other bit that sticks in my craw is that if you want FTTN in a place like mine, you can pay for it yourself. I’d say that this will cost somewhere in the region of $2000-$4000 and if you’re not getting it to run a Telstra service across it, heaven help you getting it before the continents return to the formation of Gondwanaland.

But what it comes down to for me is this: the overall situation for broadband users in this country will not improve. The vast majority of us get somewhere around 12mbps already and pay the same on ADSL as we would on fibre, less the Telstra line rental of $35.

The Coalition’s mix of technology ensures a fundamental inequality. If I’m further away from the node than next door is, I get a lesser service for the same money.

If my strand of copper is awful, but next door’s isn’t, I get a lesser service for the same money. If I live in a greenfield site, I get 100mbps on fibre. If I don’t I take pot luck with VDSL and vectoring voodoo.

Let me put it another way. In a race car, grip is important. The FTTH policy, the Labor policy, gives the race car all the grip it needs to go fast for the ENTIRE track. It’s a brand new, FIA approved Formula 1 track, if you’ll pardon the awful analogy.

What FTTN does is provide a half tarmac, half dirt track. It’s a road all right, but you can’t run an F1 car over the dirt bits, so that’s the end of your fun, so you have to go back to driving something higher, slower and less capable of going really damn fast. And on that dirt bit, where the grip is low, not only can you not go as fast, you’re still fare more likely to crash.

 That’s FTTN. A dirt road over the last mile. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s a mile or a foot – copper constrains the bandwidth. And if you compare financial reality – $42bn versus $30bn, there’s no genuine contest.

The trouble is, the Coalition are much better at selling a bag of poo and telling you it’s a bag of lovely chocolate. The Labor government has proven itself incompetent in every way in effectively selling the NBN. The fact it was an election issue last time around was because the Coalition didn’t *have* a policy, so Labor’s looked great by comparison.

Australia is an undoubtedly difficult place to do broadband equitably. The Coalition have abandoned the idea that 93% of the country should get the same and are happy for the status quo to remain. 

It’s not good enough for a modern economy increasingly reliant on services delivered across the internet where we need quality, stable, fast and less lop-sidedly asynchronous connectivity.

The Coalition policy is here. Let me know if I’ve got anything (genuinely) wrong:

http://lpa.webcontent.s3.amazonaws.com/NBN/The%20Coalition’s%20Plan%20for%20Fast%20Broadband%20and%20an%20Affordable%20NBN%20Summary.pdf

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This is the Telstra I Know

Being a bit of a mobile worker I begrudgingly switched to Telstra just on two years ago. I always hated them and their arrogance but unfortunately, their huge superiority over the hopeless competition and the money I was losing every time I lost a call, drove me into their sticky arms.

They had become almost good value and the premium, while still there, was meaningful because you could see what you were paying for, at least on their mobile plans.

It was with an almost loyal fervour I slipped in their reasonable-value micro-SIM for the iPad. $150 for 12Gb over 12 months promised okay value but good convenience.

Today I got an email that reminded me of how much Telstra could be disliked.

“On 12 June, a 365-day recharge on the Telstra Pre-Paid micro-SIM for iPad will increase from $150 to $180.

At this new price, you’ll still receive 12GB of included data – so you can enjoy great value surfing on Australia’s largest national mobile network.”

Oh, happy day! You’re charging us more but assuring us it’s great value? Wonderful. Not even ‘still’ enjoy but, ‘enjoy’ as though the price had gone down and this announcement is a good thing for us as Telstra users.

Any excuses as to why, when everything is getting cheaper, this is getting more expensive? No. Nothing.

It goes on to tell me that I must be SURE to MAXIMISE my value.

By spending a lot more money for data I won’t need.

“You might also consider our other economical options on your next recharge. With a 30-day expiry, you can receive 12GB for $100, 9GB for $80, or 6GB for $60.”

Um, no thanks. 

It’s almost as if nobody stood back and thought to themselves, ‘I wonder why people use this particular plan?’

I’ll tell them – normally I’d charge for this sort of advice, but it’s so obvious, they can have it for free.

It’s because we use this as an adjunct to our web life, not as the centre. The iPad – any tablet really – is, for many people just another device that we use to get emails, tweet, FB or LinkedIn when we’re out and about. We don’t need a stupendous amount of data, it’s a casual device.

I’m not complaining of the price increase per se – it is Telstra after all – but the fact they don’t even know who is buying that plan or why. 

The worst bit is, sending us an email advising is to spend 40% of what we used to every month for something that is of no value to us. The use of “economical” is the most egregious piece of smoke-blowing I’ve seen in an email for a long, long time.

So, I guess, it’s welcome back to the old Telstra we always knew. Thanks for the year or two of not being unself-conscious jerks.

The Taliban Take Qatar

Those delightful scamps, the Taliban, are to open an office in the Gulf state of Qatar.

My brain is a wonderland of rabbit holes, so I present to you a little exchange between the Taliban rep and a real estate agent that I had in my head when I read this news. Yes, I should get out more.
Real Estate Agent: So, Mr…Smith, was it?
Taliban: Smith, yes. Smith.
Real Estate Agent: Mr Smith, what sort of premises are you looking for?
Taliban: Outside of town, you know, somewhere dusty, room for plenty of Toyota sport utility vehicles.
Real Estate Agent: Oh, so a compound?
Taliban: Yes, something like that.
Real Estate: Room for a growing family?
Taliban: Er…yes. People will come and go. Trucks, mostly.
Real Estate: Any particular hobbies?
Taliban: We like shooting…
Real Estate: Photographers are we?
Taliban: We hunt for infidels, mostly.
Real Estate: Not sure they’re native to Qatar…
Taliban: Oh, we find them everywhere, they’re like a pest.
Real Estate: Great! You’d know more about it than me, you sound like an expert.
Taliban: We like shooting planes, too.
Real Estate: Oh, I could take photos of planes all day long, such amazing machines.
Taliban: Yes, although they are built by imperialist scum from the West.
Real Estate: (pauses)…(laughs)
Taliban: (laughs)
Real Estate: Very funny. We do have one place that might fit the bill. Here’s some photos. Lots of storage…
Taliban: Oh, some very nice places for the guns and rocket launchers. And enough space to park a stolen Russian tank!
Real Estate: Very spacious compound indeed.
Taliban: I like it. A few tents here, a rifle range there, a commando course in the north corner, it’ll be lovely.
Real Estate: I knew you’d like it. So I have your name here already on the form…occupation?
Taliban: Tricky. Bit of this, bit of that. Let’s leave out the opium trading, child marrying and arms trading, shall we? (laughs)
Real Estate: Oh, you are a funny one, Mr Smith.
Taliban: Just put ‘crusher of imperialist dogs.’
Real Estate: Perfect. Middle Management, then?

Don’t Turn Away

Something has been boiling away in the background for me, professionally, for the last six or eight months. It’s the first thing I’ve felt really connected to (again, professionally) for a long time because it is something worthwhile, something that will actually help and something that I have been able to apply my experience to in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve done something utterly lacking in moral worth.

I don’t do immoral things – I’d be a much wealthier man had I decided to take those gigs with a certain tobacco company, a certain booze company or a certain gambling company. Whether you deem that immoral or not is your problem, not mine (and vice versa), but the point is, I try and take a principled stand.

So this thing that I got caught up in was partly due to white hot anger. A digital services company had taken a non-profit for a fairly substantial ride on a project. I ran through in my head how it should have gone and realised that if I had been in charge, we’d have had it out the door for 60%, still made money, paid everyone properly and we would have had something to be proud of.

Anyway. Every now and again, I hear a story that reminds me why I am doing it. It’s not my full-time thing, I am effectively consulting to it for nothing but don’t wince about it. It’s worthwhile. It’s devilishly clever. And hopefully, it will stop things like this happening:

Ned is a guy who lives in Sydney. He’s 50, and he’s intellectually disabled. I don’t care what you want to call it now, but he’s not like “everyday people.” He works in a workshop and gets a ride to the workshop everyday. Everyday, he gets a ride home in a cab – with a cabbie who knows where his home is.

One day, Ned asked a cabbie whether he was going to his home suburb. When the cabbie said yes, Ned thought that the cab was the right one. It wasn’t.

After 45 minutes driving around, the cabbie got annoyed. We know that – because we saw the footage. The cabbie dropped Ned at a station. Not the police station. It should have been the police station. But it wasn’t. Ned went missing for 10 days. It’s thought he went interstate. We don’t know that – but we know he was missing for ten days. They think he’d made it to Brisbane. He was found 5 minutes from his home. He was one of the lucky ones. He was safe.

What is important in this story isn’t only that Ned was found. It was that at no time in ten days did any member of the public care to call the authorities. Clearly Ned is a person who needs, needed, help.

A few days ago, someone who does understand ‘duty of care,’ failed to notify authorities. It turned out very badly. I would ask that we all are aware of what can happen when we ignore the extraordinary.

When you see someone who is distressed, or who is seemingly distressed others, please don’t ignore it. Please call for help.

Call for help. Sometimes these people are very intimidating or we’re just not sure how to handle them, but even if you just call the police and make sure they arrive, you’ve done something. I know that I’ve let these things pass me by, wrapped up in my own world and not wanting to get involved. They’re brothers, sons, uncles, fathers, grandfathers. Sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers. They are loved and sometimes the very reason they are out and about is because they are loved, because their carers were able to let go for long enough to let their loved be a part of a society that doesn’t want to know them.

This thing that I’m doing, that we are doing, will hopefully save Ned from going missing for ten days and the pain and suffering this caused his family. I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m awesome – I most certainly am not – but to say to you, don’t turn away. I must learn to practice what I preach, too. And this project is holding me to account.

I watched Offspring!

And it made me go cross-eyed. The performances were fine but I didn’t have a clue what was going on and the camera wasn’t held still, making me feel ick. So I turned it off.

Not much of a review, but there you go. I don’t watch stuff that makes me feel ill (Q&A, The Footy Show, anything with people like Brynne Edelston).

Apparently, Cigarette Companies are Uncaring

The tobacco companies hit the road this morning with an interesting new direction in their campaign against plain packaging.

The last campaign was something of a disaster. The tobacco companies tried to make plain cigarette packaging an election issue by getting a bunch of retailers to band together to make a range of claims, including that the government strategy won’t work.

I vaguely remember someone asking the question, ‘So what are you worried about?’ which prompted the usual civil liberties blather that makes me change radio stations and look for the nearest cliff to drive off in an expression of personal freedom.

Today, the tobacco lobby has decided it has had enough and will instead do the following to show they care:

1. Reduce the cost of cigarettes to ‘flood the market.’

2. Reduce the cost by reducing the quality, importing ‘chop-chop’ cigarettes

3. Keep doing what they’ve doing for the last couple of centuries and work out new and inventive ways to be inextricably linked to fantastically immoral behaviour (remember the slave trade?).

To illustrate point 3, in an interview with that bastion of mediocrity, Melbourne’s Herald Sun, British American Tobacco’s ‘Australia chief’ David Crow (what an appropriate name) had this rather malelovent thing to say.

“Could cigarettes halve over time? In the longer term, potentially yes.”

It sounds even better when you imagine the man stroking a cat and leaving a dramatic pause between ‘potentially’ and ‘yes.’ He went on and drove his message home in the caring, sharing way we’ve come to expect from tobacco companies:

“[cheap prices] basically means more people will smoke, more kids will smoke.”

And then you can imagine him narrowing his eyes, ashing his cigarette into the mouth of a baby seal and laughing like Dr Evil.

That’s awesome. Well done. It’s good you’re caring for the kids and ensuring they might have access to cheap death sticks.

I guess it’s hard to see from his point-of-view. He has a job where the predictable outcome of everything he does to improve the profits of his business pretty much boils down to, ‘Kill more people, and do it slowly. The last thing we want is tobacco knocking them off when they’ve got 20 years to keep going AND be a drain on society.’

He also has the problem that whenever he finds a cheaper way to do things, the Government turns around and whacks a jolly great tax on his deadly products. I mean, you have to feel for the guy, right?

Right?

Nah, I can’t bring myself to do it either.

He even went on to say that the government will owe him billions in compensation. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if the government, even if the courts found them liable, just didn’t pay and the tobacco companies then left in a huff (sorry, sorry)? I know I’d find it funny.

I’m not all that sure plain packaging will make much of a difference but I’m quite pleased about it. If it makes one person give up (which it probably won’t), then it’s worth it. It’s worth it for vexing the tobacco companies, that much is a given. The problem I see is that the companies will start handing out branded tins for the small group of desperado image-obsessed smokers to slip their olive-green cigarette packs into shiny packaging and allow them to breathe easy (sorry, sorry).

This is all just a stunt, thinking he can ‘scare’ the government into backing down. His problem is, social attitudes to smoking have changed and even many people who do smoke won’t care very much. The government won’t back down, they won’t import the chop-chop and if they do, the taxes will make up the difference, thereby just annoying their customers.

Everyone wins except the tobacco companies. Wait…maybe that’s their clever plan, to undo themselves? Maybe they do care?

Atheist Site Outage Outrage a bit Ho-Hum

A couple of days ago, I tweeted this:

http://twitter.com/zerogeewhiz/status/5034082224

The ‘idiots’ were the people attacking the website of the Global Atheist Convention which is taking place in Melbourne. Let me get your disappointment out of the way early: I’m a Christian. So I’m not here to rail against the Christians who were *obviously* behind this.

What I will say is this. If Christians were doing this, they should be ashamed of themselves. By that I mean proper Christians, not ones who say they are when really they don’t act like one (I’m looking at you, John Howard) or who feel vigilante action is the way to go. It’s not and, as I tweeted, it’s counter-productive. Christians have nothing to hide and if those outside don’t like it, well, at least they’ve heard the message.

I think the Atheist movement, specifically David Nicholls, head of the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA), need to harden up. The reality is probably a couple of mischievous geeks who DoSed the site for the lulz. I say a couple, the goose who did it is unlikely to have brilliant social skills, but let’s try and be fair.

Nicholls whined that it was an attack on free speech and yes, it was but so is every other DoS attempt. The problem is, Nicholls runs the line that government and public life should be free of religion. Erm. Okay, so what he is saying is that those who are in government should be secular and aren’t allowed to be influenced by their beliefs. Even though he holds a particular belief (or non-belief) that heavily influences his thinking and actions, yet his thinking is fine because this particular group holds that their thinking is clear and rational. Additionally, World Vision should just get on with saving the world without acknowledging the religious ethos of its very existence. The Red Cross ditched Christianity and look how that’s worked out for them. It’s a bloated bureaucracy beaten only by the UN.

Now, before you get going, I should point out a few things. The vast majority of Christians accept climate change (the prophet Hosea pointed out that the earth was groaning to its creator due to sin…in other words, what we’re doing to the earth and its resources are attributable to greed). The vast majority of Christians accept evolution. The vast majority of Christians accept science and just to remind the crazies, the dude who cracked the human genome is a Christian. His motivation? He loves the fact that there is a creator and doesn’t think it ‘just happened’ but was all part of a plan. And that he was given the power to unpick it all.

So, once more for the ignorant, most of us believe that Genesis is what it is – poetry, a creation myth. The Bible is not a science textbook and science textbooks do not and cannot explain, prove or disprove God. As Dylan Moran pointed out, ‘Bang, (monkey noises), hi honey, I’m home’ does not really explain the universe. He also pointed out it would be far more amusing in reverse order. It’s a simplistic view (he also propounds God is like talking to a sock puppet, so he’s not on ‘my’ side), but bang! is as ‘lame’ as ‘God is behind it’ if you want to split hairs.

What makes me very tired about current discourse between Atheists and Christians is that the Atheist view of Dawkins, Hitchens et al is so ill-informed. Countless people have regurgitated the same three passages from The God Delusion to me. Expecting me to just roll over and say ‘Oh, gosh, you’re right,’ the first thing they do is backpedal when I demand an apology for them calling me, my wife, my parents and her parents child-abusers. What strikes me as deeply amusing is that this sort of turbo-regurgitation, which is mostly bile, is the exact same accusation levelled at ‘religious’ people. The Christian response has been muted and where loud, stupid.

A fellow Twitterer who shall remain nameless because I haven’t asked permission to to use his name, pointed me to his favourite article on Scientology because I had suggested that Nicholls hadn’t said much when Anon were attacking Scientology. I think he was sort of agreeing that you can’t moan about free speech when you don’t condemn religious organisations being attacked. Anyway, this is it:

http://www.demonbaby.com/blog/2008/01/please-stop-making-fun-of.html

I understand people think Christianity is a bit whacked but I actually intensely dislike the comparison of doctrine. Whittled back to its core, Scientology is a science fiction story without redemption or freedom. The story (or truth, dependent on your view) of Christ is one of redemption, reconciliation, love and the freedom to choose your path. Scientology fleeces its followers to remove Thetans, a non-existent alien presence that they say they can prove with an e-meter. Christianity promises no such thing. If a Christian does, throw a Bible at him/her.

Christianity preaches that you must turn away from sin and demands no money. The Bible *recommends* tithing but you are not compelled to do so. God wants you to give from your heart and not your wallet.

On the subject of sin, I find it deeply amusing that Atheists reject sin as a concept because they believe that it is invented by man and not God but are rapidly producing their own lists of sins and commandments. I read blog after blog where atheists are telling Christians or religious people that public displays of religion are wrong. Voting for a party or person or policy informed by belief is wrong. Eating organic is an attack on science. I have one word for those who think science is infallible: thalidomide. I have two words for those who think science is the source of goodness: atomic bomb.

In just the same way people have done rotten things in the name of religion, science is guilty of insidious cherry-picking. Remember the scientists who told us smoking was good for us? Yep. I do too. Who was railing against smoking since the 1920s? The church.

When it comes down to it, there’s a huge difference between Atheism and being anti-religious. Many anti-religious hide under the cover of Atheism because that is a more acceptable label (what does this sound like?). The Global Atheist Conference will no doubt support the suppression of religious expression, will be a sort of Hillsong for the unbelievers. And they’re welcome to it and Cath Deveney’s shrill rehash of fellow speaker Dawkins’ propaganda. All power to them and I hope the Christian population ignores them because they are exercising their rights and privileges, not as Australians but as what we believe is an expression of their free will to reject God.

Christianity is not a rejection of reason, science, clear-thinking or rational behaviour. Any Christian who is not intellectually engaged with their faith will obviously find it hollow and not act according to what their faith does demand of them – tolerance, justice and love.