This morning I attended an Australian Computer Society breakfast entitled “Australia - The Next Wave or Just A Backwater?“. (Who invented the business beakfast?) It was a policy debate between Senators Conroy, Coonan and Allison on ICT policy, excellently moderated by Peter Blasina.
It was a remarkably well attended and worthwhile exercise. However, the audience was quite subdued, only coming out with unsolicited applause once (more on that later). Perhaps that is due to the IT industry at least being notorious night owls – breakfast isn’t their best time.
The debate covered fairly expected territory – everyone agreeing on doing more on broadband but disagreeing on how. Everyone agreed on the need for innovation and skills development but disagreed on how.
Senator Coonan showed the benefits of incumbency with a briefing book covering all the various aspects of policy, including a plethora of various grants. Intriguingly she said the need was to bring these all together into a coherent plan, which sort of begs the question why she wasn’t doing that already.
Of course we know, as the Ex Cathedra column I had published in today’s Exchange newsletter said, we have had a piecemeal approach to policy to get the various big changes – especially Telstra privatisation – through.
Only Senator Allison mentioned the SS – structural separation – in her speech. She was also the only one to get spontaneous audience applause – I think as reaction to her answer on a later question on separation. Conroy and Coonan were both, shall we say, guarded. Though Conroy grabbed a few laughs when Coonan was talking about "being afraid of Labor and picking technologies" and Conroy interjected " like opel" (It is an nteresting point because all the money Labor and the Democrats wanted to spend on the CAN to enable dial-up will be required for FTTN - you can't run broadband over pair-gains either).
The question I would have liked to ask, but didn’t get the call, was about other actions needed to get widespread adoption of Broadband. It is one thing to have the network, it is another to have a PC and application software. The question is “Should the Australian Government support a version of open source operating system and application software to reduce the costs of ICT for all Australians?” After all every new PC just increases the ICT trade deficit including a very hefty slice to Seattle.