Monday, January 11, 2010

What I did on my holidays ...

by Stephen Conroy Class 4B

We know that the Minister ducked back into his office to release the Digital Dividend green paper. We know now he's also found time to get over to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. Because he gave a speech I guess part of it at least wasn't holidays.

He makes a good case here for why the Government has pursued the course it has with the NBN. He said;

As modern economies are market-based, the transformation of our traditional economies into digital economies is appropriately market-led. However, the transformative powers of digital technologies have broader implications for our communities – our societies – as well. Therefore, when formulating strategies to deliver the maximum economic and social benefits of the digital economy, it is important to understand which sector of society is best placed to progress which element.

Firstly, the Government’s primary role is that of an enabler – as demonstrated by our broadband investment and role in bringing the community together to establish the foundations for the future. Government should enable individuals, households and businesses to take-up the opportunities raised by the digital economy.

Secondly, a successful digital economy requires a digitally-confident and creative industry. We need an environment that encourages and nurtures digital skills development and digital capabilities.

Thirdly, we require a digitally-empowered, confident and literate community. This is a community that enjoys inclusive digital participation and the benefits of online engagement, leaving no-one behind.

He goes on to suggest that the NBN is already having positive outcomes;

Already, the NBN has stimulated new activity in the Australian ICT sector.

Melbourne University has launched the Institute for the Broadband Enabled Economy to develop and test applications and services in areas such as e-health, e-education, e-commerce, and environmental monitoring. To its credit, it has already attracted a strong selection of international partners – Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Microsoft, Ericsson and NEC, to name just a few.

In November we saw Ericsson launch a new centre of excellence for IPTV, servicing customers across the Asia Pacific region but based in Melbourne, in part thanks to plans to advance Australia’s broadband capabilities.

The Government is also a strong supporter of National ICT Australia (or NICTA as it is known), a national development and commercialisation incubator for cutting-edge digital innovation. NICTA recently launched a new laboratory complex in Sydney, which I am sure will see it continue to grow its research and standing with international partners, and lead to additional commercialisation opportunities.

All of these activities help demonstrate a broader agenda in Australia, via the NBN, to enable our national capability to lead in the global digital economy.

Unfortunately I do not share the Minister's optimism. In particular I find the IBES to be a very tired model of digital economy thinking. It has organised itself into five streams that look scarily like the streams of the Government's own forum; of health, education, infrastructure, business and communities.

I personally find the health and education agendas grossly overworked and over emphasised. The communities piece also needs serious work - it is too full still of digital democracy boosterism.

But the bit that really disappoints me is that economics has been stuck in with infrastructure into the Network Deployment and Economics reserach stream, while the Service and Business Transformation stream is made up of old-fashioned e-commerce research.

Somewhere we need a really good research project in Australia on the economics of the Digital Economy. It is a society in which bandwagon and network effects become far more important. It is a society where all production is supra-national, and hence hard to manage the ordinary anti-trust provisions, it is a society in which the assumption of natutral limits to firm size completely break-down. It is, in other words, a society in which most of the assumptions of market theory become harder to sustain.

What we don't know is the right way to analyse that kind of world. There are as I've written lots of dissenters but no challengers.

Until we start discussing the real disruptive effects of ICT as a GPT we are just playing on the surface.

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