Is it possible to have a rational discussion on twitter? The NBN and the outrage.
A good example of the craziness of social media can be seen in the to and fro today concerning Julia Keady's (@saysjuliakeady) lack of broadband in Ocean Grove in Victoria.
Yesterday she tweeted me with this statement:
"Bought a house in Ocean Grove. No NBN. No cable. No ADSL 2 or 1. Back to the dongle. Prehistoric. @turnbullmalcolm. Not good enough."
I replied with a question:
"just curious:- if connectivity was so vital to you, why did you buy a house where there was no broadband available."
Now I should interpolate here and note that some time later Ms Keady stated on her blog that she had in fact been advised broadband was available in the area, but had after moving in been told by Telstra that there were no ports available at the exchange. You might think that would have been a reasonable reply to give me.
But no. Instead she replied with an accusation:
"You're saying people who want their children to grow up in regional Aust dont deserve access to modern services. @theage"
"No I am simply asking whether given the importance of bband to you, you checked availability before buying yr new house."
Several tweets later she replied with an answer along the lines of her blog.
"Broadband is available. We're not that silly. But no ports left in exchange. No incentive for telcos."
That gave me some useful information and so endeavouring to learn more in order to suggest a solution I asked her
"okay how far are you from the pillar in the street."
This is an important issue, because depending on the distance I could then make an estimate of the likely speed that would be available to her from a fibre to the node solution which is capable of being rolled out much sooner than fibre to the premises given the significantly reduced level of civil works.
Her reply was very dusty and suggests a constructive dialogue was not on her agenda.
"I'd love to have that conversation. But I'm a small business operator & have work to finish. Call me tomorrow."
Then the misrepresentation began. I was accused of urging people to move house to get broadband, of being indifferent to regional communities, of discriminating against people on low incomes in regional areas. And not just on twitter.
Harry Tucker a technology reporter for news.com.au wrote a story headlined "Malcolm Turnbull suggests resident move house for decent broadband"
Of course I had said no such thing - the statement attributed to me by Mr Tucker was a complete invention and calculated to mislead readers. He clearly had not the slightest interest in reporting the facts - is this the new meta-journalism?
Or just a good case of the craziness and outrage of much of social media bleeding into the mainstream media?
Perhaps this could be seen as a case study not just of the volatile and sometimes distorting character of social media, but equally of the ultra-politicised broadband debate we have in Australia, where people prefer to make accusations and leap to conclusions than actually listen with an open mind and then judge whether whomever they are interacting with has something valid or interesting or helpful to say?
Well at the risk of letting the facts get in the way of a good furore, a few points:-
1. Unlike Labor, the Coalition is committed to completing the NBN in a manner which prioritizes the least well served areas. And unlike Labor we have actually done the homework with our broadband availability and quality study to find out where broadband is good, bad or indifferent.
2. This was NOT a priority of Labor's, as we have seen Labor's rollout seemed to owe more to politics than need, a good case being the precincts in Western Sydney where the fibre rollout overbuilt streets with two HFC services available. Think about that:- while people languish with no or very poor broadband (we estimate about 1.6 million households are in that category) Labor was rolling out fibre in a Labor marginal seat in streets where residents had a choice of not one, but two, 100 mbps HFC broadband services.
3. The NBN Co strategic review estimates that the change to our multi technology policy will mean the least served areas will get upgraded at least two years sooner than they would have done under Labor's 93% FTTP rollout plan.
4. And of course it is a fact that the biggest barrier to broadband access is not technology (thats important of course) but income. Households in the bottom 20% of incomes are ten times more likely NOT to have access to the internet than those in the top 20% So affordability matters and because our approach to the NBN will be $32 billion cheaper to complete, it will also be much more affordable. The strategic review concluded that for NBN Co to get the 7.1% return Labor promised it would need to raise internet charges by up to 80%.
5. So if you were a person living in an area with poor broadband and were on lower income than average the consequence of Labor's approach is that you would wait longer to get better broadband and when you got it, it would be much less affordable. A lose - lose you might say - not to speak of the additional cost to the taxpayer.
6. Some people have said to me they don't care how long it takes or much it costs - they want to get fibre to the premises. That rather reckless attitude might suit someone who had pretty good broadband now and a high income, but if you have no broadband now and don't have a high income you wouldn't be so blase.
7. The Coalition's approach means the NBN can be completed sooner (about four years sooner), cheaper ( $32 billion less) and consequently much more affordably. All of the details on this score are in the Strategic Review available at www.nbnco.com.au