Thursday, October 21, 2010





It's just like communist China.

If you read The Age's Minister threatens to use law to force people on NBN if states revolt (cue jokes along the lines of, "The states are revolting!" "Tell me something I don't know..."), those are some things you'll notice come up regularly in the comments. I always thought readers of The Age and SMH were relatively logical lefties, but apparently not.

I'm both amused and puzzled by people flinging around the words Communist and socialist again like they're Glenn Beck and using those words somehow makes their argument against policies, infrastructure and so on watertight. Because all of those filthy Commies are evil and are out to destroy the world as we know it and... yeah... the Cold War ended some time ago, there aren't Reds under every bed and crying, "Socialist! Communist!" about things that are aimed at benefiting the community seems bizarre at best. For a start, this isn't America. I thought we were somewhat more sensible than that. But judging by the comments on various news website, apparently not.

When the moral and political distinctions between Communists and liberals (and by that, I mean small-l liberals, not the political party) aren't made, reality risks being distorted severely and in a damaging fashion for individuals and society generally. Spending money on infrastructure - whether it's a hospital, some schools, railway lines, or a broadband network - does not a Communist make. Supporting things like welfare and health care systems don't make you a socialist (if anything, community-centred ethical perspectives on such matters seem to indicate that you're just a decent human being who has concern for other human beings).

This was something that struck me when Obama was working on health care reforms in the US. When people weren't clutching handkerchiefs over the possibility of government-subsidised abortion, there were people calling the plans "socialism," saying it was part of a "socialist agenda," etc. All the way back in November 1961, President Kennedy spoke out against "discordant voices of extremism" that "equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the welfare state with socialism, and socialism with Communism.”

And yet somehow in recent times and in the minds of some, doing things that benefit society as a whole have somehow become things only Communists/socialists would do. I'm not sure whether it's a severe case of right-wing resurgence or rabid individualism or a people being seriously NIMBY about basically everything. But it disappoints me because it seems sad to turn back to what Kennedy described 50 years ago as "counsels of fear and suspicion" from the far right.

I've still to work out what people fear about the NBN.

But it seems like the a lot of the newspapers (and commenters on their sites) in Australia see it as something to be feared, judging by their coverage of it all. I suppose at least the media's demands for a cost benefits analysis for the NBN seem to have disappeared for the time being (however, if you want to go back in time and read some interesting commentary on that whole issue, Cost benefit delusions of the NBN from Pollytics is good) (additionally, apparently Malcolm Turnbull introduced a private member's bill yesterday to try to make the government do a CBA on the NBN, which is interesting...).

Perhaps the fear of it stems from a lack of understanding, not just of the technologies involved, but also of what the NBN is about as a whole. I don't think news coverage of it has been the best (perfect example for the day: The Australian's Stephen Conroy having 'hissy fit' over The Australian's NBN coverage: Chris Mitchell - it comes across as wanting to be the news rather than report it, not least because that article is actually longer than their one about the NBN not raising the cost of landlines).

Considering how long the NBN stuff has been around - the Senate site itself says, "On 25 June 2008, the Senate established the Select Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN) to inquire into and report on the government's proposal to partner with the private sector to upgrade parts of the existing network to fibre to provide minimum broadband speeds of 12 megabits per second to 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses on an open access basis" - the hysteria about it now seems strange.

Yet the NBN is something that has the potential to benefit everyone. Yes, it will cost money. But infrastructure does actually cost money. The wiring currently serving as our phone system cost money to put in. Railways cost money to lay down. Roads cost money. The sewerage system your house is connected to cost money. From what I recall of Telstra trying to woo me over to broadband years ago when I was on dial-up, that cost money too (for the modem in particular).

While I think of it, dial-up is a great example of "My intermawebz are perfect as they are, thankyouverymuch, I do not wish to change anything!" As if people would want to go back to dial-up now days when they've got fast intermawebz and quick access to amusing time-wasting videos of cats on YouTube.

But back to the point of cost. Last night on Lateline, Senator Stephen Conroy (yes, he annoys me as much as he annoys others) explained that there is no cost whatsoever to having the NBN connected to ones home. Although he added, "If we then roll through your suburb and roll on a few more suburbs and you suddenly change your mind, the NBN Co haven't made a final decision on this, but there's been some suggestions there could be a cost if we've gotta come back and re-do your home. But no final decision has been made on that issue."

To me, it makes sense for there to be some cost if people have to come back and do work on a place when they could have knocked it all off in one go while they were there the first time around. This is not forcing people to join up to the NBN. If you do get it connected, you don't have to use it. People can also choose to just keep what they have now - it just means that if they change their mind in the future because they had refused connection to the rollout earlier, they might have to pay for it. And to me, that seems to be their own fault. Conroy also speaks about the "furphy" relating to fixed lines and phone calls.

The stupidity about "Communists" and "tyrants" forcing everyone to have the NBN whether they want it or not makes my brain ache. Especially when people say that it's just a way for the government to go all 1984 on people (also, just a random thought, but I do wonder how many people who bring out the Communist/Marxist/socialist/1984/Brave New World/etc stuff have actually read the manifestos/philosophies/novels or just comment with it because they've heard others do so before?). Conspiracy theories, general wilful ignorance and apparent desire to not move with the times are just sad.

Besides, I didn't notice a massive outcry about switching over to digital television, even though that costs money (either to get a set-top box or upgrade your telly). If there was media coverage, I've missed it, along with all of the outraged comments from anonymous people from all over redneck Australia saying how they're perfectly happy with the television they've got only giving them five channels and how dare the government be so socialist/Communist/whateverist as to force them to have an option to look at more channels, more content and more choice. It's outrageous!

But really, much more of this sort of stuff and we will be confirming the survey that ranked Australia as "the world's dumb blonde."

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