a tech column it might seem a little out of place but I want to have a
philosophical discussion today. Discussion is probably not the correct word as
a discussion would normally involve multiple people putting forward different
ideas and exchange those in some meaningful manner. Writing a column does not
allow a live debate but I will try my best to bring different viewpoints

issue today is about equity of access to technology. We live in a vast nation.
Roughly 7.692 million square kilometres. Our population is not evenly spread
across this vast nation with 66 per cent of Aussies living in our capital
cities. Population density in these cities means that there are economies of
scale that allow delivery of greater services at cheaper prices.

challenge for any Federal Government is to balance the cheaper delivery of
services in an urban area with the equity of service desire across the nation.

demonstrate what I mean, we should jump back to the nineties. Those were the
days when you accessed the Internet via a telephone line using a modem. We all
became accustomed to the screeching noises made by the equipment plugged into
our computer. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) plans were based on time not
data and the term “dial-up” became mainstream. I really can’t remember how much
was typically paid per hour to connect to the Internet but it wasn’t much and some
providers offered a daily rate of a few dollars. For a business to be connected
to the Internet for most of the working day may have cost you in the vicinity
of $60 per month and for home users just using it intermittently it was
significantly less. If you wanted to connect for significant periods of time
you would often have a phone line dedicated for the task as well but home users
often used one line and it would be engaged while you were on the Internet. So
all up the cost may have been anywhere from $20 to $80 for home users to
business users.

the cost of the phone call.

that is where the disparity occurred. In Sydney (or in any of the capital
cities) if you wanted to use the Internet, it was a local phone call. Dial up
all day for the cost of a local call and just pay your ISP for their charges.
In regional areas, it was different. Very few regional locations had a local
ISP therefore every call to your ISP was a long-distance (or STD as it used to
be called) call. There was no such thing as a plan that had capped STD calls so
the most significant cost for a user in Dubbo was the phone call.

discussed this issue with our Federal Government at the time (remembering that
Telstra was still a government entity at the time with only one third being
sold in 1997) and gave them my brilliant idea. At the time there was a focus on
trying to build more ISPs in regional Australia but I had a much simpler
solution. Don’t spend large chunks of government money on infrastructure. Spend
slightly smaller chunks of government money on subsidisation. The only issue
was the cost of the phone call so I lobbied the Government to introduce a free
phone call for regional users. I wasn’t successful but a couple of years later
Telstra introduced a new plan. It went halfway there – it gave users of the
service a toll free number to call for their Internet access but at a dearer
rate to use the ISP. Not perfect but it was a subsidisation and it made sense.

in mind this subsidy in services is to help an area of the nation that
contributes 67 per cent of export income and accounts for 45 per cent of
tourism expenditure. Regional Australia is not asking for a handout but asking
for fair and equitable access to services.

all those years ago you would think that we have learned the lesson and
wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes with the NBN.


Australian Government is currently in the process of launching the Sky Muster
satellites. The cost of this infrastructure is in the order of $2 billion to
start with plus the running costs. It has an estimated life of fifteen years.
We are told this will service 200,000 people. That is $10,000 per person just
to launch.

I am seeing is that many people are unhappy with the latency; speed and data
limits from pieces of equipment sitting 35,786km above the equator so in areas
where mobile service is available – even if only just available – many users
are choosing to use mobile broadband despite the fact that this often comes at
higher prices. There are obviously locations where there is no mobile service.
I would prefer to see special mobile broadband pricing or subsidies for users
that can’t access other forms of NBN. $2 billion buys a lot of subsidisation –
or maybe even put up a few new mobile phone towers!

those in areas that are definitely not going to receive mobile phone reception,
there are over 1,000 active satellites in our sky at the moment so I am quite
certain that the owners of those satellites would welcome more connections to
their satellites. Once again, a government subsidy to these users would seem
like a better solution that spending our money on infrastructure.

only we could learn from the past…

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