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POST-ELECTION: DEMOCRACY AND COMMUNICATIONS September 13, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Internet Age.
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Journalism is a wonderful thing to behold, and that and it’s publication probably accounts in small part to the health of democratic process, not least democratic discussion and policy formation.

Put aside the fact that Murdoch will be knocking on the cabinet door and demanding payment for whatever it turns out he desires. Not to be too cynical, it might have something to do with media deregulation and restriction on the development of broadband. At this point we wait with baited breath, and the realization those elected can be expected to honour the promissory note.

It is a completely different case, if citizens petition the government to have their interests respected. We have had the election you see. The ABC, as you might expect, gets stuck in, with the usual and tedious metaphor:

The Coalition has hit back at an online petition to scrap its National Broadband Network plan, saying the election victory gives it a mandate to implement its policy.

The petition, launched earlier this week by Queensland university student Nick Paine, has gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

Mr Paine, 20, said he wanted to protest the Coalition’s plans to switch the NBN to a $29.5 billion fibre-to-the-node model.

He wants the new government to continue rolling out the $44.1 billion fibre-to-the-premises network begun under Labor.

The Coalition Government’s communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, posted a statement on his website saying the party’s election win gave it a mandate to go ahead with its NBN plan.

“The promoters of this petition apparently believe that we should ignore the lengthy public debate on the NBN that preceded the election and also ignore the election result,” he said.

“[That] we should, within days of the election, walk away from one of our most well-debated, well-understood and prominent policies.

“Democracy? I don’t think so.”

It is a fantasy to suppose that elections are about policy debates. I don’t think the broadband policy was prominent, and the reason is clear that it did not attract the interest of swinging voters in the marginal seats. Budget policy was a prominent policy, but equally well contested, in actual fact the Coalition was able to get through the election without the full costings. The problems with the Liberal broadband policy are: costing and timing, technical questions about the viability of the copper wire network that struggles to provide adequate telephone land line services when it rains, and entrenching inequality for services, especially the urban-rural divide, including for specialist medical services among others. Who knows what if any influence, the former Country Party, had on the formation of this policy.

At least, the Liberal Broadband Policy can be found on the party website. The same cannot be said for the ALP.

In the first Leader’s Debate, Broadband was hardly mentioned,and that was by Kevin Rudd:

There was a debate on Channel 7, Sunrise, I discover:

Anthony Albanese and Malcolm Turnbull appeared on Lateline:

Some experts have been less than complementary, but civility – not democracy – was argument for not listening to the objections, as shown on Sky TV:

Stilgherrian reviewed the policy debate for Crickey on 10 April:

. FTTN isn’t as simple as its made out, with problems ranging from it having double the power consumption of FTTP to having to negotiate the siting of 60,000-odd node cabinets with local councils to having to service the nodes’ batteries and more.

And then the whole FTTN shebang would have to be upgraded to FTTP anyway at some point — unless demand ”magically plateaus”, as Hackett puts it, at around two to three times the current level. History has shown a continuous, unbroken increase. Any new data infrastructure that’s deployed has its capacity filled sooner rather than later. And yet assuming that will continue to be the case is a belief, not science.

Turnbull has factored in operational costs sourced from existing operators. He’s also provided, on page 15, his working-out to challenge the notion that building FTTP in one hit now is, overall, cheaper than a two-step approach — using the kind of modelling that investors are used to seeing. It’s there to be challenged.

Ultimately, it’s a choice between two sets of beliefs. The Coalition’s mix naturally includes “private ownership and an open, competitive market create more direct incentives for efficiency and lower prices for consumers” and “private investors are usually better placed than taxpayers to evaluate, fund and bear the risk of new investments in networks or technologies in an increasingly dynamic sector, and they’ve presented a business plan”. Labor’s naturally includes issues of equity and building infrastructure for the community good. That’s been matched with the not-unreasonable technologists’ beliefs about the empowering and enabling nature of data networks — but they are nevertheless “just” beliefs.

And in any event, how much of this stuff should the government pay for, versus individual householders and businesses?

Between now and September 14 the broadband battle will be fought on these two fronts: left-brain hard numbers and right-brain beliefs, gut feelings about the benefits versus the risks, and ideology.

So if there was a debate on these matters, where was it held? What effect did it have on the election outcome? In principle why should this debate now be terminated?

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