Futurist. It conjures up the image of a person sitting in a darkened room with two hands placed on a large orb floating over a table with an unsuspecting victim waiting to hear if they should move to Toledo. In this context, possibly a better term might be charlatan.

The real futurist spends a significant amount of time researching the past, looking at historical movements, investigating breakthroughs and combining all the available data to build some form of roadmap to where a particular industry might be at some point in the future. More legwork than guesswork.

To a certain extent you would hope that the leaders in society are all futurists because not only do they need to know where we are going but they can also help shape that future.

The latest changes in the National Broadband Network (NBN) show the stark contrast between futurist and populist. Communications Minister at the time, Stephen Conroy, announced the concept of the NBN as part of an election campaign and, once elected, established NBN Co on 9 April 2009. I had my first meeting with Conroy on 17 December 2009. I could see the economic and social advantages of the NBN for our city and wanted our community to be at the forefront of regional communities adapting to the new digital age.

Unfortunately, along the way of the futurist vision, the nation had a change of government and cute three-word slogans and false economies got in the way of the rollout of the modern equivalent of the overland Telegraph line.

Our visionary future of a fibre-connected nation ended up with a multi-technology mix – or as I liked to call it a multi-technology mix-up!

A country that was rich in resources had the opportunity to lead the world in the new digital revolution and set the nation up for decades. Sure, rolling out fibre to a large nation was expensive but making do with an inferior solution that everyone apart from the government could see would need to be fixed in the future would be more expensive in the long-term.

Our current position in the world is embarrassing. Let me drop a few stats. The Speedtest Global Index currently has Australia at 68th spot. New Zealand, by contrast, sits at 24th. Out of 35 OECD countries, Australia ranks 32nd. The global average download speed is 73.5 megabits per second (Mbps). Australia’s fixed broadband speed averages 41.7 Mbps.

When a former Prime Minister made the grand statement that “25 megabits per second is going to be more than enough for the average household” he missed a significant point. Not only is this way below where the world sits, the next frontier is Gigabit. In small numbers today but that is accelerating quickly.

Iceland leads the world with Gigabit test penetration of 0.71 per cent. Singapore is 0.47 per cent. Even New Zealand is at 0.13 per cent. And Australia, accurate to two decimal places, is at 0.00 per cent.

The good news is that the government has finally realised that we are being left behind and NBN has announced a roadmap to upgrade to FTTP and therefore to Gigabit speeds – and beyond. We have some catching up to do though – New Zealand already has 10 Gbps speeds. At the moment only 18 per cent of Australian premises can access Gigabit speeds but the NBN pricing has precluded most retailers from offering reasonable plans.

With the $3.5 billion upgrade Australia can finally start clawing its way back. Tell me if you would connect to Gigabit if the plans were available for you now at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson

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