Page 3384 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 23 September 2015

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Areas of Theodore have some of the lowest internet speeds and availability in Australia. When you go to these areas on the NBN Co website, the date for the rollout in these areas is not even listed. Indeed, when I put my address in there, it does not come up as being connected in the future at all. It is clear not only that has the quality of the NBN been severely compromised by the coalition to now being at least 20 times slower than it would have been with fibre to the premises but that parts of my electorate in Brindabella have been left out entirely.

The lack of commitment by the friends of the Canberra Liberals on the hill to the future rollout of the NBN and the progression of technology in our country is amazingly similar to conservative views on technology advancement that have been seen in the past. As raised during a debate on the NBN by Anthony Albanese in 2013, pretty much the exact debate over telecommunications occurred in 1910. You can read the Hansard from that debate. Today’s debate basically replaces the old words of “iron” and “copper” with the words “copper” and “fibre”.

As someone who has a deep interest in history, not only is it interesting to hear the way in which the iron to copper issue was debated back in 1910, but it is fascinating to see the similarities with the current conversation. If we look back at that debate, we can see some of the conversations. Minister James Matthews MP is quoted in Hansard:

The practical men in the Department, not the theorists, think that nothing is gained by using copper wire for short lines. Some of the iron wire lines have been in use for thirty years, and give as good results now as copper wire lines. Last year an iron wire line, put up when I was a boy, to connect the Age office with Mr. David Syme’s house on the Yarra, at Hawthorn, was still giving satisfactory results, although for a good part of its length it ran parallel with the railway line, and was exposed to the smoke of locomotives, which was prejudicial to its life.

There is an iron wire line to Bacchus Marsh, and those who have spoken over it know that its conductivity is better than that of many copper wire lines. I do not say that copper wire should not be used for long-distance lines like that from Sydney to Melbourne, but for short city lines iron wire is sufficiently good, and is much cheaper.

You can see the contest—it is about cost and not efficiency. He goes on to say:

At the time there was not a great quantity of iron wire in stock, but when a new supply was obtained, the onus of determining whether iron wire or copper wire should be used was thrown on the line foreman, who naturally did not care to run any risk. Why should responsibility of this kind be thrown on men receiving only £156 a year? It would not be allowed in a business office. No doubt it is done to shield the official “heads”, who, if anything goes wrong, can blame their subordinates.

You can see, Mr Assistant Speaker, an interesting concept in the discussion between the cost of rolling out a very good application for communications in 1910 and the arguments we see today for fibre to the node.

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