Monday, June 26, 2017

Keeping TiVos Working in Australia After October

Darren King suggests, is to register for the TiVo swap-out, but not hand over your TiVo until late October, to see if the grass roots project is a success.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poor Get Poorest NBN Service

Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
In "Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide" (The Conversation, June 21, 2017), Schram, Baum, Fisher, Harris, Friel and Frereman show that socio-economic disadvantaged areas of Australia have been missing out on the faster fiber National Broadband Network (NBN). These areas get the slower wireless, hybrid fibre or satellite service. Even when location was taken into account (as wireless and satellite are primarily intended for low population densities) the same effect was found. However, why this may be the case: due to deliberate discrimination by NBN Co., an effect of the technology, or the way the existing infrastructure was built, the authors do not mention. Perhaps this will be in the peer reviewed publications of the research to come.

This is not quite the broadband for social good which  Roger Clarke and I envisioned in 1994.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Venture Capital Effect

The Venture Capital Effec by Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital AssociationGreetings from the Mural Hall of Parliament House Canberra, where The Venture Capital Effect is being launched. This report  is from the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, so is very pro-VC.

This is of interest to me as I help students undertaking start-ups at the Australian National University. Some of these are extra-curricular activities such as the Innovation ACT competition, while others are part of their degree program through ANU Techlauncher.

Unfortunately all the MPs had to go to a division, just they were getting up to speak at the event. Perhaps one new venture could be an electronic voting system for Parliament, so MPs need not be in the chamber. ;-)

NBN Pork-barreling Worked

Research by Alizadeh and Farid (2017) found that pork-barreling by Australian politicians over the National Broadband Network (NBN) worked. Voters who received early access to high speed broadband rewarded the party which provided this with their votes:
    "An analysis of the voting behaviour in the 2007 and the 2010 Federal elections shows a pattern in which the ALP held seats were the key beneficiaries of the early NBN rollout. Moreover, the results suggests that the Coalition held safe seats were the least likely to receive the infrastructure. Diverse sub-patterns across the three states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria have been discussed in details. However, the overall findings remain that the selection process for the early NBN rollout was skewed up for potential political gains.

    The paper then moves to the second question on whether the targeted infrastructure provision worked and swung votes for the ALP in the following 2013 Federal election. The analysis of the voting in the NBN early rollout areas versus the rest of the country shows a clear difference. While the ALP experienced an overall heavy negative swing across the nation and lost the election, the negative shift was highly mitigated in the NBN early release sites."

    From Alizadeh and Farid, 2017.
I suggest the lesson from this is: when proposing tech policy, find some aspect which offers short term political gain. Making appeals to the national interest and long term benefit is of little relevance to politicians aiming to win the next election. So how do we make changes we think need to be made to Internet policy appealing to voters in the short term and so therefore appealing to politicians?


Alizadeh, T., & Farid, R. (2017). Political economy of telecommunication infrastructure: An investigation of the National Broadband Network early rollout and pork barrel politics in Australia. Telecommunications Policy, 41(4), 242-252.

The Clean House, Sarah Ruhl, New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney

On Sunday I attended the play The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney. The play begins with someone telling a joke in Portuguese, a long joke. The person telling the joke is clearly enjoying it, but I don't speak Portuguese and so did not get it. The rest of the play was in English, mostly, which I do speak, but I still didn't get what this play was about.

Set mostly in a comfortable apartment of a professional American couple, the play's central character is a Portuguese speaking Brazilian maid, who like telling jokes more than cleaning. She becomes tied up the breakdown of the relationship of the couple. It all becomes a bit silly when one party goes off to Alaska to chop down a tree.

The mix of the surreal and the buttoned-up professionals did not work for me. The cast is clearly having fun, and Alice Livingstone in particular as a frumpy sister with an urge to break out and get a job. However, I don't find comedies about rich people with fantasies of having to work for a living that funny.

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl is on at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney until 8 July 2017.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Finkel Report on Australian Electricity Market No Solution

The "Blueprint for the Future: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market" by
Alan Finkel, Karen Moses, Chloe Munro, Terry Effeney and Mary O’Kane has been released by the Australian Government. The 212 page report includes eight pages of recommendations. The report proposes short term regulation requiring energy suppliers and distributors to provide a reserve of generating capacity (dispatchable power). However, the report doesn't address how to do this in a cost effective way. The likely result is that supplying companies will take the opportunity to use this as a reason to further increase prices.

This report is very much focused on the short term  issues of reliable electricity supply which are only an inconvenience to the community, but a major political threat to governments. The report fails to adequately address the long term issue of carbon pollution from coal and gas fired power stations which places the prosperity of the nation and the safety of its citizens at risk.

The authors of the report have met their brief, in providing a way for the Australian Government to avoid having to deal with difficult issues of human caused climate change and reliable electricity supply.  Instead the industry regulator will be required to introduce short term regulations which will increase the cost of electricity in the short and long term, as well as greatly adding to the cost decades from now, when Australia is forced to take effective action on climate change.

If the aim is to increase the reliability of the electricity supply, then there are some simple low cost ways through modern technology. Modern air-conditioners use electronically controlled motors (so called "inverters"). It would require only a small enhancement to the program controlling the inverters to have them help stabilize the power grid. Australian law could be changed to require all new domestic and industrial air-conditioners permanently connected to the grid to be programmed to help maintain it. This would cost a few dollars per unit and the user would be unlikely to notice the difference. A few times a year the air-conditioner would  switch to low power mode for a few minutes to help maintain the grid.

Dr Evan Franklin, Senior Lecturer, Research School of Engineering, ANU, presented an excellent seminar "Electrical power systems with high penetration of renewables: the physics behind the political bluster". Dr  Franklin provided a clear and credible analysis of what caused the South Australian blackout (which precipitated the Finkel Report) and options to improve the reliability of supply while also increasing the use of renewable energy and phasing out coal.

 Unfortunately it seems unlikely the Australian Government would feel able to accept Dr Franklin's advice. One hope for the future is that technology will come to the rescue. The continually dropping cost of solar and wind energy, along with options for battery and pumped hydro storage will likely have more influence on energy options than Australian Government policy. Australia will likely achieve a reliable renewable energy system despite, not because of, government policy.

On Thursday I attended a community energy session at EnergyLab hosted by University of Technology Sydney. Speakers from ClearSky, Pingala,  and Community Power Agency put the case for a different energy future for Australia,  where the community is involved in planning and implementation.