Want to slow down? Maybe Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN is what we need | Peter Lewis | Australia news


It says much about the craziness of the past seven days that this time last week we thought the burning issue for today’s discussion would be the virtues or otherwise of our national broadband network.

Dip back into your browser history and remember that one? The CEO of the NBN who was in damage control, demanding protection from competitors after a Four Corners report had revealed the scope of his flawed rollout? The prime minister who had pimped around his own technological know-how as justification for dumping Labor’s fibre model, who was now denying paternity of the scheme? The silent screams of countless Australians as they sat frozen in the download zone?

In understanding attitudes to the failing NBN we thought we’d have the story of the week, so we whipped up a series of questions for the weekly Essential Report expecting we would, as always, be leading the public debate.

Poor fools us. Since then we have seen a political agenda that has included, but is not limited to:

This sort of rolling political crisis gives a local flavour of what it must be like in Trump’s America, where the volume and scope of outrage means that a new scandal has erupted before the previous one has been resolved (anyone remember the Neg? That was nearly a fortnight ago).

Egged on by the breathless neediness of the traditional media and amplified by the angry echo chamber of the social channels that suck up our time, political debate is becoming just more of the white noise that is infesting our lives.

So much information, so many scoops, so many outrages, so many things to click, to share, to hate; we are living the politics of our times, the age of information overload where we have limitless data but no way to understand it.

What Australia needs is a leader who has the courage to stand up to this relentless acceleration and just slow things down, to give us time to ponder, to consider, to think.

By embracing copper wires and sticky tape and slower download times, maybe Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN is exactly what the nation needs right now.

According to this week’s findings, just a shave over half of us who have signed up to the NBN think it’s a better service. The rest think the NBN makes no difference or is actually worse.

Would you say that your NBN internet service is better or worse than your previous service in terms of speed and reliability? (Based on respondents with NBN connection)

This is a great start. That’s one in two Australians who have been lured into the dream of hyper-connectivity, realising it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Older Australians in particular are finding the darn contraptions are just a waste of money and returning to the lives they enjoyed before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs stuffed everything up with their interweb.

In even better news, just one quarter of us think Turnbull’s NBN positions us to consume the volume of online content we will need to download in the future.

Do you think that the NBN will adequately meet Australia’s future internet requirements?

The recently crowned Nobel economics prize winner Richard Thaler would be thrilled – Turnbull is embracing the theory of the nudge to ween us off our devices for the long term. Already older Australians are voting with their mouses; it is now up to us all to convince the third of younger Australians who still dream of a connected future that the NBN is not worth waiting for.

And that’s not all. Got a problem with Google and Apple’s tax evasion? Slow down their access to homes of Australia. Think Facebook is destroying the noble art of journalism with its algorithms and advertising platform? Force the punters back to print. Worried your kids are being lured into the dark recesses of the web? What better response than a government-sponsored digital speed hump.

Because of this visionary policy, the government has successfully positioned Labor as the party for a faster NBN, forcing their opponents to take responsibility for the faster internet speeds and all the consequences that this entails.

The Coalition’s NBN plan is to more quickly roll out fibre to local nodes and let Telstra’s copper network carry internet traffic to households, compared to the previous Labor plan to roll out fibre to every household outside rural areas, which would cost more and have taken longer but produced higher speeds. Which plan do you believe is best for Australia?

For once, Turnbull has a reason to be proud of himself. While the man he replaced was no “tech-head”, even Tony Abbott could not corner the Luddite vote the way this prime minister can. Drawing on all his years in skimming proceeds from the rollout of analogue Ozemail, this man has the credibility to tell his fellow Australians “this is as good as you can expect”.

Watch as these pronouncements reverberate around the nation; forcing couples to look up from their dual streaming tablets and make eye contact; driving kiddies from their violent games to head outdoors to chase balls or small furry animals; convincing business they just don’t have the bandwidth to replace people with robots.

Who would have thought in getting things so wrong, Turnbull may be actually giving the nation what we really need? By driving us away from technology, maybe he can bring us all closer together. Talk about innovative interruptions: well played, prime minister!

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