Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NBN Champions

The distressing fact about the NBN remains the fact that whether we need it remains "contested ground". Malcolm Turnbull continues to make inroads by repeating that no one can tell him why every household needs 100Mbps. He might like to reflect on the fact that when he first ran OzEmail and all customers used 300bps he probably couldn't have imagined why anyone would even need 1Mbps.

News today that the Government is planning a campaign based on twelve NBN champions. Pity that one of the names, Rosemary Sinclair, has already resigned as CEO of ATUG.

The item continues;

Details of the campaign are expected next month, when the government is set to unveil a strategy for turning Australia into a ''world-leading'' digital economy by 2020, when the network is due to be nearly complete.

Under the national digital economy strategy, the government has pledged to introduce policies that will help households and businesses make the most of the network, as well as providing a "road map of what an NBN-enabled world will look like"

This is a much looked forward to announcement planned for late May by Senator Conroy. This is the next stage following the string of Digital Economy initiatives. The current foundation stone of that is the document Future Directions of the Digital Economy.

I have a distinct disagreement with the government over the definition of the Digital Economy, and as a consequence the correct policy response.

The Government defines the Digital Economy as;

The global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by information and communications technologies, such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks.

As a definition this at best defines part of the economy. Its limitation is the failure to recognise ICT as a General Purpose Technology (GPT) and hence that ALL economic activity is impacted or enabled in some way. A farmer who uses the Bureau of Meteorology website to access a weather forecast to decide when to plant or harvest is engaged in a digital economy activity.

To see the distinction imagine if we defined the Industrial Economy as the global and social activities enabled by the steam engine, internal combustion engine and electric motor?

The change from an agricultural society to the modern industrial society that accompanied these technologies has not just been one of degree (i.e. of productivity), but of kind. Both capitalism as we know it, and democracy as we know it were products of the industrial revolution.

Phillip Bobbit's thesis is that ICTs were one of the two defining technologies (along with weapons of mass destruction) that brought the long war from 1914 to 1990 to an end. The question he then poses is what does the "constitutional order" of the market state look like.

There is plenty of evidence that the societies that work out the constitutional order for new epochs (to use Marx's term) first are the most successful.

The Government in its strategy states;

The key elements to a successful digital economy are a Government that is digitally aware and enabling; industry that is digitally confident, innovative and skilled; and a community that is digitally empowered and literate.

To that needs to be added "a Government and society that are prepared to examine the implications of the digital economy on the organisation of the economy and to react positively to the change."

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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