It’s staggering that this even has to be written, but there’s an organisation in Australia which is throwing around its weight like Manny Pacquiao at a pre-fight weigh-in, yet they are a feather-weight in a heavy-weight world title fight.
What makes it worse is, they’re barely qualified to be in the feather-weight fight.
I’m talking about Internet Australia – the organisation which self-identifies as a “not-for-profit peak organisation representing all Australian Internet users.”
For years now I’ve been supporting the need for better internet, a utility like approach to the provision of internet services to Australian homes, faster broadband – whatever you want to call it. The NBN was the holy grail, the ultimate outcome.
Yet, sadly, it became a political football and has been slowed down by a complete technology shift and despite now being very much on track to delivery that utility like service we’ve still got a ridiculous amount of mis-information in the public space, and perhaps more worryingly in parliament.
You see, Politicians can’t really be across everything going on. Politicians rely on three key inputs for their information and decisions around what angles they might take and questions they may pose in a place like parliament.
Firstly there are their own advisors. Without question every politician has them, and this is how they stay on message with their party ideals, and own policy commitments.
Then there’s the constituents, the folks who vote for them and live within the area they are representing. We the people have the right to call, go to the office of, and write to our local member. You can contact them about everything from the roads in your area to your concerns about education or the crappy treatment your telco is giving you. And of course, if you’re a bit angry the NBN hasn’t hit your area, or you’re reading that Fibre to the Node is crap and want something better, you can write to them.
Finally, there are lobbyists. People who live their lives trying to sway our politicians into going a certain way on policy, understanding the needs and concerns of large groups and businesses. These folk pickup the phone to the teams of people around our politicians to try and get meetings with them and the members of parliament they work for.
Great, good system. Lots of info.
But, back to Internet Australia. Great name. Great philosophy “representing all Australian Internet Users”- but do they? Really?
No hiding from the fact that I’m someone who just wants the NBN to get on with the job. I want the bickering to end and for Australians to get better Internet.
That came to a head a few months ago when Internet Australia’s CEO Anne Hurley wrote an opinion in The Australian stating that the “NBN path was broken beyond repair”. Utter Rubbish. Don’t worry, I responded.
But then I thought, wait, maybe I’m missing something here.
How many members does Internet Australia Have? Just who are they representing? Tweet after tweet to both their CEO and the Organisation itself asking that question – no answer, just more narky comments.
So I joined Internet Australia. I became a member. If they represent Australian Internet Users, I am one, and I’ll put my money where my mouth is.
There’s no list of members. There’s also no transparency about their financial accounts, nothing to show just how many members they have. Nothing. Crickets.
What I got for my money was access to a mailing list of members. Good times; some super smart people, many many degrees smarter than I am, discussing technology issues, possible Wireless or next generation technologies.
And Laurie Patton, who sends members a copy of every article he’s quoted in. Laurie used to be the CEO of Internet Australia. He’s the voice of Internet Australia, he’s the Face of Internet Australia.
He’s the media’s go-to guy for a comment slamming the NBN. A quote machine.
Laurie hates the NBN in its current form, and to summarise as best I can his view, he wants the NBN to STOP the roll out of FTTN (Node) to the 4 million homes that are on the roll-out plan and implement Fibre to the Curb. (FTTC).
Great idea Laurie. This will certainly mean faster theoretical speeds for all those homes. No Question. But at what cost? Not in dollars – but in time? He’s never mentioned how long it would take the NBN to retool, re-plan, re contract, whatever else is involved. Let me give you a tip – it will delay everything by another two years.
I don’t personally care, I’m getting HFC NBN (Using the Foxtel/Telstra Pay TV Cable) – so, wohoo for me.
Why then do I care? Because every day I get calls and emails from real people, real Australians, keen to know when they are getting NBN and what it will be like – and the constant media negativity which stretches into our elected politicians questions is doing nothing to give the public confidence.
Laurie Patton’s constant narking about FTTN that has him quoted by Senators in our Parliament during important sessions like Senate Estimates.
Estimates – as we know it – requires the leadership team of government organisations like the SBS, ABC and NBN among many others – to front up, and answer random questions from Senators – representing their constituents (and their advisors, and the lobbyists they’ve heard from)
Sadly, I’m a nerd, and I watch estimates – all the time. 50% of the questions asked are clearly not understood by the Policitian asking it, and are done to rile up a response or headline. A good chunk of the rest are exploratory and very interesting.
Last night Green’s Senator Scott Ludlam even raised the issue of Laurie being blocked by the NBN on twitter – how on earth is that relevant to the Australian people? Why does Laurie get some special treatment? Because the Politicians see him as a person representing the views of the public.
This, despite Internet Australia’s own self declaration that “We are a broad member-based organisation not an industry lobby group.” Ha!
What did I get for my money? An insight into the level of discussion and debate among “members”. Sadly, very few participants, and frankly that says to me very few members. I don’t believe Internet Australia has more than 50 members. To be honest, outside of its “Board and Staff” I doubt there are more than 10.
Last week, CEO Ann Hurley resigned from the position for personal reasons. This was announced to members via email (the first email she had sent to members of any kind in over two months), along with the news that Laurie would be back as the leader of the organisation. No discussion, no formal governance process to guide that leadership change.
After watching the usual suspects argue the case for more transparency within the organisation, I wrote my very first and likely last email to the membership base. Calling for an open discussion on the role of Internet Australia in the NBN and broader internet discussion. A focus on getting customer service and speed right, not a continual abuse of the NBN and attempts to somehow change policy in a political climate which quite simply would never cop another technology change.
The answer – crickets. One email of support for Laurie came in from a member – a few emails from the two or three most active participants, and then to me privately, some emails from former board members and existing members who are equally as perplexed by the direction and focus Internet Australia currently takes into its public and government relations.
Quite frankly, Internet Australia in its current form is irrelevant. It represents fewer than 0.0002% of the Australian Population. It has no current policy focus other than to knock down the current NBN, and it shows little or no support for any part of the NBN.
Take a few hours to sit and watch Senate Estimates with the NBN and you’ll see some pretty good answers to questions of speed, future planning and the roll out generally.
Listen to Laurie Patton and you’ll just here a twisted truth – like back in March when he gave some quotes to internet IT publications stating that NBN CEO Bill Morrow had told estimates that end users would need to pay for their own upgrades to FTTN if they wanted faster speeds, when in fact, if you were watching as I was – Bill Morrow stated quite clearly that once end users were demonstrating a desire to pay for higher speeds in enough numbers to make it viable, the NBN would fund the upgrades and allow those purchases.
83% of end users are choosing 12 and 25 meg speed plans. Where is Laurie Patton in representing the needs of those – the overwhelming majority? Non existent.
Internet Australia is irrelevant in the NBN debate. Politicians should not be accepting meetings or calls from the organisation, or using any quotes or comments from Internet Australia to fuel their own political fires.
The media too is guilty of looking for a quick quote – bagging the NBN is great clickbait you see – so Laurie will keep getting those calls. But surely he should be quoted not as the leader of any representative organisation, but simple as a disgruntled hater of the current NBN policy?
Australian internet users need representation, if Internet Australia wants to provide that, they need to drive a higher membership base, they need corporate support and funding from the telcos and other interested businesses, and they need an all-new executive, one that does not include the roll-him-out rent-a-quote antics of Laurie Patton.
I watch estimates with an ear out for every Australian – those on Fixed Wireless, Satellite, FTTN or even FTTP. It’s a different situation for everyone. And I’m acutely aware of the issues of speed – but estimates give answers. Last night much discussion about Speed Qualification Tests – but I don’t hear Internet Australia calling on the RSPs (Telcos) to be required to provide the service qualification results to all users before they sign onto a plan? Nope? Nothing. There’s how you could be representing all Australians.
Food for thought.
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.