The first stream to be considered in the Brisbane forum was Smart Infrastructure.
Associate Professor James Hogan from QUT's Science & Technology Faculty presented first. He started with a succinct but important quote from Microsoft: “It is not longer possible to do science without a computer”.
James spoke about some projects in his field - namely, how smart infrastructure is being used to measure environmental health. Digital instruments (similar to "smart phones") record environmental acoustics to "emulate scientific eyes and ears" in measuring environmental health. There are two such projects currently being undertaken - one to measure the sounds (and therefore the movements and health) of koalas at St Bee's Island, and another to measure the sounds of Lewins Rail (a type of bird) in the Brisbane Airport surrounds. Broadband helps to take this scientific data from the field and share it with others faster and more broadly, to have greater impact.
The second speaker in this stream was Lucy Cradduck, a lecturer in business law at the University of the Sunshine Coast and a SJD candidate in law at QUT.
Lucy made some important points about the challenges facing us in rolling out the national broadband network (NBN). These include:
- Literacy: Access to information is about people being digitally literate – it is important that all people with capacity to access the NBN are fully digitally literate. If we do not have everyone able to understand, as well as everyone able to access, then we cannot move forward properly.
- Physical infrastructure: New networks need to be constructed in infill (mainly urban and regional) and greenfield (mainly regional and rural). There are unique issues in greenfield sites, in particular cost and how the cables are going to be treated. Will they be treated the same as other utilities? There must be proper interoperability between old networks and new. Upgrading existing hardware and software needs to be efficient.
So what steps do we need to make in moving forward?
- We need consistent policies across Australia on what must be provided for all not just Greenfield
- Specific issues for rural and regional Australia must be addressed
- We cannot create an “underclass of the NBN have-nots”
- We need to consider how to treat the cost of creating the network – who pays and when for access to the network?
[Note: I think (hope) that both James and Lucy's slides will be made available online in the next few days.]
Group discussion record
Q: What legal issues does the NBN throw up?
A: [Lucy Cradduck] One big issue is net neutrality – making sure that the NBN is open, that the content and system providers do not control what material we can have access to. Currently, Telstra controls most (if not all) of the internet exchanges. But moving forward, the NBN should be completely neutral so anyone can use it; anyone can gain access.
Q: So what are the key net neutrality issues we need to be aware of moving forward?
A: [Brian Fitzgerald] Part of the innovation of the internet means you don’t try to predetermine the uses of the internet. One of the critical issues around network neutrality is how strongly you enforce the requirement of net neutrality. And how far do we let people tinker with the internet to prevent copyright infringement or for censorship or for a range of other reasons.
Anne Fitzgerald: Law is part of the infrastructure and the interaction between law and technology is fundamental for access.
Brian Fitzgerald and others: The law could be more customised for more digital environments.