Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parliamentary Report on NBN

The report "Broadening the debate: Inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network" has been released by the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. The full report is 426 pages, available as one 4.3 Mbyte PDF file or chapter by chapter (with a HTML version to follow). This is a mostly upbeat report about what the NBN could be used for (if we had it), rather than looking into the cost of building it.

Report Contents
  • Preliminary pages: Contents, Foreword, Committee Membership, Terms of Reference, List of Abbreviations and List of Recommendations
  1. Introduction
  2. Government services
  3. Health
  4. Education
  5. Infrastructure and the environment
  6. Economic development and diversification
  7. Research and innovation
  8. Community and social
  9. Network capacity and technology
  10. Government coordination
  1. Background
  2. Glossary of Terms
  3. Submissions
  4. Exhibits
  5. Public Hearings
  1. That the Government continue to coordinate the implementation of the National Digital Economy Strategy across government, ensuring appropriate regulatory frameworks are in place and promoting a consistent trans-sector approach to supporting its goals.
  2. That the Government require its departments to report against the goals identified in the National Digital Economy Strategy in their annual reports.
  3. That the Government continues to implement broadband-enabled technologies into its own services and operations as a means of improving efficiency, as well as to encourage NBN uptake and utilisation.
  4. That the Government continue to support strategically targeted pilot projects in cooperation with relevant industries and communities that model innovative applications of the NBN.
  5. That the Government consider allocating resources to each Regional Development Australia committee to allow these bodies to provide enhanced local digital economy leadership. This leadership role should include identifying regional goals and implementing related strategies and programs.
  6. That the Federal Government develop a comprehensive engagement strategy incorporating a range of approaches to promote the uptake of broadband and digital technologies during the NBN rollout.
  7. That, recognising the important roles of public libraries and community centres, the Federal Government works in an appropriate capacity to implement a network of public access points connected to high speed NBN services in as many communities as possible.
  8. That the Federal Government, with other organisations as appropriate, develop targeted programs for those currently disadvantaged by the digital divide to improve awareness of publicly available high-speed internet facilities, to improve access, and to promote the development of relevant skills.
  9. That the Government provide continued support for organisations involved in the development of high speed broadband applications.
  10. That the Government maintains regulatory support to encourage increased levels of research and innovation in the private sector and recognises the NBN’s importance to the realisation of its innovation agenda.
  11. That the Government develop a strategy for the digitisation of Australia’s culturally and historically significant content.
  12. That the Government facilitate discussions between representatives of key content industries and internet service providers to work towards an agreed framework for minimising online copyright theft.
  13. That the Government provide further support for digital literacy programs, based on the Broadband for Seniors kiosk model, making use of existing resources such as libraries and not-for-profit groups where possible.
  14. That the Government continue to support programs that equip small and medium enterprises with the knowledge and support they need to compete in the digital economy.
  15. That the Government develop strategies for the collection and provision of data on workforce needs in the ICT sector into the future.
  16. That the Government develop a long term strategy to up-skill and/or retrain the existing workforce and develop new training programs to address emerging skills gaps.
My Submission Cited

My submission "Broadband for a Broad Land" has been cited six times in the report. I suggested the NBN could help with education, but this will require a large investment in teaching teachers how to teach on-line (a topic I am studying on-line). Also I discussed how the NBN could help the environment, but this would take some planning and investment.

While it says in the report "... Mr Worthington also told the Committee ...", the committee did not ask me to give verbal evidence and has gone just by what was in my written submission. This shows the value of a carefully written submission, which has been formatted so it is easy to cut and paste from. ;-)


Chapter 4: Education

4.98 Mr Tom Worthington, an independent IT consultant and computer scientist based in Canberra, stated in his submission to the Committee that governments are paying for ‘unnecessary duplication’ across education sectors in both online learning and physical infrastructure. Mr Worthington wrote that substantial savings could be obtained through the creation of an ‘Australian Learning Commons’ consisting of multi-use school buildings and free sharing of teaching materials throughout Australia:

Despite work on a national curriculum ... individual teachers have to find materials to teach. Sharing of materials can be facilitated by the use of Creative Commons licensing, which allows any teacher to use the materials produced by any Australian educator, without the need for separate permission or payment of fees. 109

4.99 Mr Worthington noted that the long term restructuring of the education systems towards a more efficient and effective ‘blended’ mode of education will require ‘retraining of teachers, restructuring of courses and the remodelling of buildings’ at a cost ‘far higher than for the implementation of the NBN itself’. 110 However, he also noted that due to the relative size of Australia’s expenditure on education, if the NBN can enable a 10 per cent reduction in the cost of education it would be enough to pay for the entire network within eight years. 111

From: Page 94

Chapter 5: Infrastructure and the environment

5.2 The Committee was told that an expanded digital economy, supported and enhanced by the NBN, can provide a means to ‘dematerialise’ the traditional economy. That is, it can replace ‘physical goods and activities with network based alternatives’, 1 ...

1. Mr Tom Worthington, Submission 17, p. 4.

From: Page 97

5.11 The Committee acknowledges the views of some contributors that the NBN also has the potential to harm the environment and therefore supports constructive advice to mitigate any negative impacts. Mr Tom Worthington submitted that the technology being deployed in the NBN is relatively energy efficient; however, as the NBN will be overall a very large user of electricity, the network should be designed in such a way to minimise energy consumption:

... for a given technology, as the data rate increases, so does the power consumption. Most of the time, most of the NBN will be carrying little or no data. The equipment used should therefore be designed to switch to a low power mode to conserve energy when possible. 13 ...

5.12 Mr Worthington also told the Committee that ‘in the absence of sufficient planning and investment, there is a risk the NBN will harm the environment through the creation of electronic waste’, in particular the back-up batteries provided with NBN Co’s household units and equipment such as ADSL modems that will be made obsolete under a FTTP network. 14 Citing similar concerns, the Communications Alliance indicated to the Committee that it ‘strongly supports’ an ‘opt-in’ policy for NBN back-up batteries to help minimise the potential for improper disposal of such waste. 15

From: Page 99 of Broadening the debate: Inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network, Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, August 2011

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