Since Malcolm Turnbull has been elected to office as PM, Australia has all but seemingly forgotten that he was possibly the worst Communications Minister Australia has ever had when it comes to technology policy.
Turnbull’s reign on technology policy was like a zero-day vulnerability – once the flaws were made public there was no denying its severe threat to the future of broadband, net neutrality and privacy.
Some highlights of his career include essentially being a pawn to the pressures of big business and party policies.
For one, fibre to the copper ends?
If you’re still waiting on the National Broadband Network by now, it may not even be worth the wait.
The Coalitian under then-Communications Minister Turnbull essentially are currently rolling out the cheaper and slower version of the NBN with rates that are capable of whoppingly slow 12 megabits-per-second (mbps) download speeds and 1 mbps upload speeds with Tier 1 plans for basic household use. This still ranks Aussie Internet speeds a low 44th worldwide as a result of the Coalition proposed “multi-technology mix” strategy with mixed fibre and copper end networks.
Though the original fibre-to-the-premise plan proposed by Labor wouldn’t have been implemented until 2026 and would cost more initially, Turnbull’s copper end and hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) or fibre-to-the-node NBN being currently rolled out to 80 per cent of homes and businesses doesn’t necessarily do Aussies any justice.
Lower initial implementation costs of the current multi-mix NBN is short-lived with foreseeable long-term maintenance costs that will see these costs eventually being put back in our bills regardless.
Essentially, under the current model, taxpayers are paying a fortune for outdated Telstra copper ends and Optus HFC lines and ISPs will eventually make up for there being no plan in place for subsidies to cover the long-term cost of maintenance.
The current NBN is also unreliable. ISPs are being encouraged to not include the optional battery backup for NBN installation when signing customers up at the cost of there being no voice telephone service when there is a power outage. The Greens also raised a pressing point about environmental concerns when millions of batteries will need to be replaced and recycled after the five-year battery life period.
The current NBN also sees that we are essentially being charged 5 tiers of pricing ranging from basic household use starting from around $60 per month for 50GB to around $100 per month for 50GB with Tier 5 plans.
The NBN proposed in the name of narrowing the digital divide between rural and regional areas, essentially creates a greater digital divide by charging different rates for those willing to pay a premium for access through the current tiered pricing model.
For those that are unaware, it’s also a blatant disregard for net neutrality through not allowing content to be made available without discrimination of different rates that favour or block particular products or websites.
A draconian copyright censorship regime
Essentially against freedom of speech in Internet terms, the Turnbull-backed Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 also reigns in favours for pay-per-view providers with a radical anti-piracy move toward Internet censorship earlier this year blocking certain access to sites.
Introduced to curb online piracy of film and TV shows, the policy essentially forces Aussie viewers to choose between the growing number of pay per view providers – Foxtel, Quickflix, Stan, Presto or Netflix.
All in the name of protecting Aussie businesses, with Telstra owned Foxtel and Presto, and Optus’s streaming partnership with Netflix supporting the cause, growing alliance amongst ISPs and streaming providers for unmetered streaming deals are also a threat to the fight for net neutrality.
Combined with NBN data caps, Aussie telecoms carriers are essentially curbing Internet innovation and creating a greater digital divide for end-users with data caps and unmetered streaming partnerships.
And with iiNet’s recent acquisition by TPG, the Aussie telecoms sphere is losing one of the most informed voices on net neutrality and Internet freedom amongst otherwise big business objectives of Aussie ISPs.
And saying goodbye to online privacy
The mandatory data retention scheme hasn’t gained much support from Turnbull, of late. Turnbull has even shared his own tips on how to beat it in depth.
“And what is to happen with data stored offshore,” Turnbull probed. “Google hosts much, if not most, of the relevant data for Australians. But none of it is hosted in Australia. Much of our voice and video calls occur now over IP services, like Skype or Google Chat. Is their customer metadata stored in Australia? Almost certainly not.”
“And finally – why do we imagine that the criminals of the greatest concern to our security agencies will not be able to use any of numerous available means to anonymise their communications or indeed choose new services that are not captured by legislated data retention rules?”
But need we forget that in 2014, Turnbull introduced the benefits of the data retention scheme to Parliament?
“For example, in a current major child exploitation investigation, the AFP has been unable to identify 156 out of 463 potential suspects because certain internet service providers do not retain the necessary IP address allocation records,” he said.
“Access to metadata plays a central role in almost every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, cybersecurity, organised crime investigation,” he told Parliament.
“It is also used in almost all serious criminal investigations, including investigations into murder, serious sexual assaults, drug trafficking and kidnapping.”
Adding to the rising costs of ICT, the mandatory data retention as previously mentioned sees end-users foreseeably paying a premium to ISPs for additional server infrastructure and storage required.
As of this year, Australia is ranked 28th in the affordability of ICT but all then-Communications Minister backed technology policies only lend to the rising cost of telecoms through flow-on costs added to our monthly bills.
Aussies are also no doubt finding ways around data collection in light of privacy concerns through increased use of overseas-based ‘over the top’ telecom providers such as Gmail for email, Viber for voice calls and Facebook and Whatsapp for messaging to avoid new data retention laws.
This means increased demand for network speeds to be void of lag time between carriers and increased usage rates of broadband networks as opposed to standard mobile communications through voice calls and SMS.
All which brings us back to the need for FTTP NBN, that behind Turnbull we probably won’t be seeing anytime in the near future.
With Australia not being able to hold a PM to full term the last three times we tried, all bets are on Turnbull’s lucky dip to the top being as short lived as the durability of a multi-mix NBN.
Though, at least we finally have a PM and opposition leader that both support same sex marriage and will leave the carbon policy alone.