Twenty years ago most of us were hearing of a wonderful new communications technology, which was referred to as the “World Wide Web” and the “International Superhighway”. We were told that universities in the United States were already using this technology to communicate among themselves involving enormously large and expensive computers. And we can all remember those photographs of machines which looked for all the world like a row of household refrigerators with very large “reel to reel” disks on the door and white coated scientists tending them.
At the time most of us were still coming to terms with the new “Telex” machines, which were replacing the PMG telegrams, and of course the PMG telegram boys.
We know now that this new technology was no pipe dream and before too long the first, enormously expensive, "personal computers” came on the market. At first they were curios but, as promised, they were useful in business and it was not long before it was possible to connect these computers through what came to be known as “dial-up technology”.
From that point on we all remember the technological advances and the speed with which they took place. It wasn’t long before many school students had computers on their desks: they were infinitely cheaper and more powerful than the original “university computers” and the connections between computers became faster and faster and, incidentally, more and more marketable.
In the meantime we hardly noticed the death of the telex (as we had done with the telegram boys), as the new FAX machine became a household item.
Following this surge forwards in connectivity, a plethora of supply and service providers came on the scene, raised billions of investor dollars, often chasing truly tenuous business plans. Naturally history repeated itself when the “dot.com” bubble, developed by the increasing claims of the money to be made with the new technology, replicated the fate of investors in the "South Seas Bubble" and "Tulip” mania.
This dot.com crash happened in the early 1990’s and while the winners rejoiced and the losers bemoaned their loss (including many Australians who purchased the Telstra T2 float) the technology relentlessly moved on. By the time we were out of the inevitable crash “dial-up technology” had been challenged by a new “digital broadband” technology which came to be known as “broadband” and personal computer development had more than matched the challenge.
While all this technology was simply dynamic, so were the increasing costs of the information distribution system. Evidently the “copper land-line technology” was substantially unsuited to broadband connections.
While communications companies connected the telephone exchanges with the new fibre-optic cable to replace the copper wire, and cable TV companies ran fibre optic cable in some metropolitan areas to market their television products, it was not enthusiastically accepted within the community. If we can believe reports, these services have yet to make a real profit for the installing companies despite offering a computer broadband connection as part of the connection deal. Variations of broadband technology, such as ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Linkage) and ADSL 2 have been effective stopgaps and, more importantly, can be connected quite economically.
It is recognised that Australia is falling behind compared to new technology available in some of the other advanced countries of the world: there is a real reason for this, notwithstanding all the spin and the misinformation foisted upon the Australian public by just about every interest in the communications industry, including the federal government.
To appreciate the situation we now find ourselves in, it is necessary to refresh our memories of some reasonably recent government history.
Some years ago the federal government introduced “consumer protection” laws, which included banning “collusive behaviour” between corporations and required companies to compete openly in the market place. This competition, it was claimed, would prevent monopolies taking over markets and so exploiting those markets and consumers. So far so good! But then, after an inquiry, (and who promoted this inquiry is another question) it was decided that government monopolies should be included in this free trade legislation.
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