With a new government and a new Minister for Communication in place it is an appropriate time to start looking at the telecommunications issues that need to be addressed.
I welcome the new Minister Paul Fletcher as he is by far the best qualified in government to take on the telecoms portfolio. I know him since his Optus days and I greatly respect him in relation to his views on both the industry as well as the broader telecoms market.
He has a big task ahead and I hope he will bring bi-partisan support back in telecoms. There is a bit of healing to do but it is in the national interest to take politics out of telecoms. It simply is too important for the future of our country.
What is not helpful is to keep on talking about the mess the Coalition inherited from the Labor Party. I know a popular thing for politicians to do is to always blame the other political party. With three years ahead for the new government there is little political need to continue the blame game. If you want to bring all the parties together such an attitude is not helpful. It would be good if Paul could lift himself above pity party politics and starts the telecoms discussion with an open mind. Australia is as far as I know one of the only countries in the world where politicians are using telecoms as a political football in order to score points.
There are of course a range of issues that need to be addressed. Obviously the NBN is the biggest issue. The NBN is now as it is, no use crying over spilled milk. A positive here is that the nbn company has already started upgrading the HFC part of the NBN infrastructure to FttP and is also testing upgrades from FttN to FttP.
It has slowly been daunting on government that the NBN is more than just a telecom infrastructure upgrade. Nationwide access to high-speed broadband provides significant increases in productivity that will greatly benefit the economy. With a broad range of commercial, social, political and criminal cyber-attacks it has become clear that if we are not careful our democracy as well as the national security can become under threat. A sturdy telecoms infrastructure is essential and in the end in relation to fixed networks needs to be fibre based.
The party politics around the NBN has seen Australia dropping from the 25th position on the international ladder for broadband quality (measured by speed) to well below the 60th position.
This is in stark contrast to developments in mobile communication, where Australia (led by industry) is right at the top of the international ladder. But this part of the industry is now also under political threat. There are the international trade politics (in relation to the Huawei issue). This threatens cost effective infrastructure and innovation. Furthermore there are unrealistic industry expectation from the regulator in relation to TPG building a 4th mobile network.
Back to the NBN, apart from the infrastructure element a more immediate issue that needs to be addressed is the wholesale price charged by the nbn company (the CVC issue). Solving this issue will also have its effect on the company’s financial situation. A further procrastination of this reform will also be detrimental to future business, investment and privatisation models.
With Paul Fletcher’s integral knowledge of the telecoms market we will hopefully also see other long overdue sector reforms.
The telecoms market is fast moving and issues such as consumer safeguards have been put on the backburner now for more than 5 years. The same applies to spectrum reforms also these have been on the agenda since 2014. Draft legislation was published in 2017, but so far without any further follow up action. The industry is also waiting for more than a year on government guidelines in relation so millimetre wave spectrum, needed for 5G IoT developments.
Before jumping to quick fix bandage solutions. The new minister should first start looking at the long term vision. It is a shame that political-illness separates Australia from many other western nations where there are long term telecoms policies in place.
By ignoring industry expert advice and totally relying on police and military sources we are clearly out of step with other countries. The so called “Encryption Act’ needs to be reviewed and amendments that were promised need to be implemented.
The same applies to the so called “Social Media Amendment’ hastily implemented, this time without any consultation just before the elections, simply aimed at scoring political points. Already at the time it was acknowledged that it was flawed and needs revision. Serious reform would need to take the Briggs Review of Australia’s Safety Online Framework into account with content reforms needed across broadcasting and the internet. This reform discussion has been going on since 2015 with no action from the government. At the same they were able to overnight come up with the ill-fated ‘Christchurch’ amendment totally ignoring all of the work already done in that field.
How unprofessional are these government actions. They don’t address the real issues, they harm the industry and makes Australia the laughing stock internationally.
My proposal to Paul would be to bring the government, industry and the community together. First a high strategic/policy level a vision for the future of telecoms in our country needs to be agreed on. In such a plan indicate who is responsible for what (government, industry, community). After that we can start looking at the many individual issues that need to be addressed again I suggest in close consultation with all parties involved.
As with so many other national issues we need the government for long term vision, guidelines and policies; the industry to deliver investment and business models not just based on profitability but also taking into account national interest issues. Equally consumers will need to take their responsibility in all of this. New technologies need to be used responsibly taking security and privacy serious both for themselves as well as for their children; ongoing education programs should be a standard element here.
Under the leadership of the new minister we can all take responsibility for a well-functioning, safe and healthy digital environment as it will benefit both our society and our economy.