I’ve already unleashed a lot of emotive language on the National Broadband Network. Here’s why:
1. Globally, our internet speeds are currently competitive.
Of course more bandwidth = better. But sometimes the marginal benefit is low. I’m not saying we’ll never need more bandwidth. I’m just saying that the balance of probability is that we’ll get better value from not spending $43 billion now. Satellites are on the horizon. So to speak.
2. I don’t buy the idea that businesses need NBN. In the places I’ve worked the internet is used for browsing the web and emailing half-finished excel spreadsheets back and forth. Businesses also love to circulate glossy PDFs, and sell things on the internet. And businesses are not in every premises in Australia.
There’s a big difference between giving hospitals and the square kilometre array incredible internet speed (8 tbps!), and giving incredible internet speeds to every terrace house, flat and bungalow in postcode 3068. Where productivity demands better internet access, users should pay.
3. I’m not sure there’s a huge advantage in being a global leader in bandwidth. The internet is international. Pages for global audiences are designed to be accessible for the average user, and for hand-held devices with more limited connectivity. Having a lot of capacity will probably mean having a lot of spare capacity until the rest of the world catches up.
4. I think there is a cap on how much data we can consume. No doubt data demand is increasing. From 286 MB/month in 2000 to 14,909 MB / month in 2009. But this is a result of moving real-world activities like photos and video onto the internet. Youtube’s audience is double that of the three big channels broadcasting US prime-time TV.
Data demand is limited by human constraints. Pixel demand is limited by the size of screens we can fit in our homes, audio quality demand is limited by our hearing and demand for video is limited by the number of waking hours in the day.
Camera megapixels are a good example of this. For about five years after the advent of digital cameras, the number of megapixels available grew exponentially. But then it plateaued at about 10-12. For the majority of people the marginal benefit of more and more data wasn’t worth it.
Similarly, telephone call sound quality is abysmal and noone cares. Most of the value is in the existence of the link not the quality.
5. Necessity can be the mother of invention. Compression technology is on the march as well. .zip files are ancient history. .jpeg and .mp3 are more recent examples, and the technology is being driven hard by hand-held devices.
6. And finally, there’s always something you could buy that would make your life bettter. But Captain Frugal says ‘value your money.’
If something has less benefit than cost, experiencing its advantages will make you worse off. Some people don’t seem to get this. Money is not just for spending.