The NBN is bigger than the internet as we know it

The number of people who want slower internet in Australia is exactly zero. The speed we need data transfers to occur at is much fast than our politicians think. The reason for that is simple, we haven’t even invented the technology or industries which will be underpinned by the required connectivity. This is merely the start of the revolution, we are only 20 years into the digital age, and thinking we can even conceptualise how data will be used in the future, and how much of it we’ll need is at best ignorant and in all probability conceited.

Consider this, when oil was first discovered bubbling out of a creek in Pennsylvania in 1859, we had no idea how this material might be used. Maybe for lanterns or heating or maybe even in some machines could use it instead of steam? But the airline industry? That was impossible to conceive as a use case for oil, as was personal locomotion and the plastics industry. Today the airline industry employs over 12 million people directly, and is an important conduit to global commerce.

The NBN is a non-polluting oil well of the future. It should be the conduit to the data economy in Australia. Transfer of data is core to any economy wishing to participate in modernity. Yet, in Australia the NBN has become a political football which is literally risking the financial future of every Australian. I’m flummoxed to hear that the CEO Bill Morrow has claimed that the average Australian (what is average anyway?) wouldn’t require download speeds of greater than 25 Mbps! Either he is deluded, he lacks understanding of exponential technology or he’s towing a political line. Data isn’t about being a techie or young, it’s akin to running water or electricity – In fact, it will probably become a vital remote health care ingredient for our ageing society. Here’s a few things we ought consider, and then start screaming loudly about relating the future of our economy and the technological infrastructure we ought be provided with:

  1. The Governments job isn’t to make a profit out of infrastructure. They should realise that they will profit from new industries built atop of it. They seem to forget the tax we pay (30% min for business) is a quasi joint venture they are the beneficiaries of. They benefit from innovation on platforms, but only when they have the quality the future requires. Besides, it is our money they are already investing on our behalf. Profit centricity is a flawed approach.
  2. Rich Countries are built on rich infrastructure. In less developed nations, the common element is crumbling or barely existent infrastructure. Low quality roads, tangled electrical grids, insufficient education, marginal hospitals. We are squandering the shift as developing nations take their chance and ensure they use connectivity to redefine their economies. Just Google internet speeds by country and see where we rank and some of the surprising speeds of developing markets.
  3. We’ve opened the door to Curve Jumps. There’s a chance that 5G mobile networks will be faster than the jumbled mix of FTTP, FTTN and FTTC NBN Co is now building. The network may obsolete before it’s completed, or even worse, a national infrastructure play could end up being served by global technology conglomerates: Google, Facebook and Space X with their various internet service projects. It’s also possible that 5G mobile networks will circumvent the NBN in cost & speed. By trying to save money, the entire project is at risk.
  4. The future economy lives on the meta-structure. The amount of data we are creating is already doubling every 18 months and we are at the start of the start. All the important innovations of the future will depend on the robustness of technological infrastructure, and will create a new meta -structure of virtual business models which live at a meta level a above the concrete and steel. The trillion sensor economy of the IoT, Desktop manufacturing and 3D printing, Drone based logistics and Virtual Roadways in the sky. All these things require faster than we imagine internet access, unlimited imagination and an ‘over investment’ in the infrastructure.

If we want equal economic opportunity around our big land, then it requires a strong national network, where our regional areas have the opportunity to build a location independent future. Everything humans and governments have ever built that mattered involved taking leaps of faith and investing more than we need now, so we can all benefit tomorrow.

You can listen to my thoughts on the NBN here. And be sure to tune in to 3AW every Monday at 4.30pm as I take on a topic that matters for our future with Tom Elliot.

If you liked this post – you’ll dig my new book – The Lessons School Forgot – a manifesto to survive the tech revolution.