First, an apology — of sorts.
Yes, I’ve been off the air. You see, last year we were supposed to get an NBN (National Broadband Network, for those of you from over the seas) tower in line-of-sight to Chez Flinthart. That would have brought my family into the 21st century, and we were really looking forward to it. It was supposed to happen in March, but there was a local NIMBY campaign against the tower itself which buffaloed the Council into ignoring its own planning officer. However, the NBN corp set a court date to challenge the council decision and in the best tradition of councils everywhere, our council backed away as fast as possible and the tower was duly back on.
Except that then, somehow, Australia voted for Tony Abbott.
Now? The NBN isn’t even answering inquries any more. They just grimly trundle along here in Tas, filling in a few gaps on the map… but there’s nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nothing at all for where I live.
We’re about fifteen km shy of the terminus of some of the very first NBN cable laid in the nation — but there’s no word as to when, or even, if, we’ll get anything like a functional service here. Telstra won’t even upgrade our local phone exchange to ADSL. Why? Well, they say there’s not enough demand. They’re lying, of course: everybody I know out here wants real Internet access. Families, businesses, farmers — all of us would benefit. But the problem is our exchange is very old, and the local lines are lead/copper pair with paper insulation, and even if they went to ADSL Telstra wouldn’t make a profit from us. Chances are they’d need to update the entire local network, and they’re not interested. (I’ve asked, yes.) From what I’ve been given to understand, they’re hoping we”ll all just eventually move to completely mobile-phone based services so they can abandon this local node utterly.
Where does that leave my family? Well, we pay about $100 a month for 15GB at something like one or two Mbps… when it’s not raining, or when the network congestion isn’t too bad.
Now, normally we can almost make that work with careful rationing. But last month we had two weeks of school holidays. That meant three schoolkids at home, and Natalie decided to work from home too, to keep them company. (You know. To actually see her own family.) As a result, we burned through our mighty 15GB in about two weeks, leaving me struggling with a 64kbps shaped connection. And no: Telstra won’t let us buy any “top-up” data.
You may be one of those folks who think 15GB should be adequate. If so — do the math. That’s approximately 500Mb of data per day. And that 500Mb is divided between a GP educator who teaches other doctors online, a high school student with lots of homework and lots of friends, and a writer who is also studying for an MA. So that’s what — 160Mb per day apiece?
So Natalie’s on her Mac. And Jake is on a Windows 7 machine, as am I. Jake’s machine just needed a service, and the computer store people were aghast at the lack of software updates on it. Jake and I laughed at them. We can’t afford to accept Microsoft’s continual torrent of software updates. Not when such updates can easily be a hundred megabytes or more. Once every couple of months or so, Jake and I try to pack up our computers, and monitors, and keyboards and so forth. We drive into Launceston to Natalie’s office, and we spend half a day updating our gear. Because we can’t do it at home.
And Natalie’s Mac gets updates too. Don’t forget that. But Nat’s not a tech person. She uses a Mac because she’s happy to let Apple do her tech thinking for her. Unlike Jake and I, she simply sets her machine to accept the Apple updates. (Can you do anything else? Did Steve Jobs leave that as a possibility? I don’t like the Apple approach to tech.)
On top of all this, don’t forget the other two school-age kids, with homework and projects and ipods of their own.
All this on a grand and glorious 500 megabytes per day, delivered by 3G wireless.
You want to know about the cost of the NBN? You want to know how the Abbott government affects rural Australia? Look no further than us. It’s getting harder and harder for us to live here, in the countryside we love. More and more difficult for one of the district’s few doctors to stay here and help the community. More and more difficult for one of the very few martial arts instructors out here to stay, and keep working with local kids.
It’s the 21st century. Less than a hundred years ago, we could afford to put telphone lines into the ground that reached all the way out here, to my house. How is it that now, with technology so much faster and more robust, the nation can’t afford to include us country folk? What happened?
Tony Abbott is bragging about the Big New Infrastructure spending in his current budget. Can I ask, please, why the most important piece of infrastructure in the last fifty years is nowhere on the list?