The NBN and Disruptive Technology

Posted by - - Politics, Technology.

Although the Internet has existed in one form or another for about 50 years, it is only in the last 15–20 years that we have seen the widespread emergence of the World Wide Web and its integration into nearly every aspect of modern life. We are now starting to see the disruptive consequences. I suspect this is just the leading edge of what is coming, for just as locomotives needed tracks, and cars needed roads before their disruptive effects were maximised, the web needs bandwidth. Once you appreciate that fact you are in a position to understand why a particular person or institution is for or against the NBN. Almost without exception, those that stand to lose as a result of the NBN, are against it.

The Internet is, even in its current narrow bandwidth iteration (‘broadband’ as it is known today, will in the very near future be looked upon as a naively boastful term) already massively disruptive. The ability to market and sell a product to anyone in the world connected to the web creates vastly larger markets for suppliers. They can sell direct to consumers, without having to utilise any of the pre-existing supply chains. The winners are the lowest-cost manufacturers, the consumers and delivery services; the losers are the middlemen (the wholesalers and the retailers) and the least-efficient manufacturers.

The ability to share information immediately with almost anyone connected to the Internet is undermining conventional information distribution networks. Newspapers the world over are in dire straits. Subscriptions and advertising revenues are falling; classified advertising revenue has all but evaporated. Distribution of video content via the Net is already starting to undermine free-to-air television—and that is with narrow bandwidth. When there is high speed upload available to all premises (households and businesses), everyone can be a live content supplier. Foxtel, and to a lesser extent, the free-to-air channels, will be reduced to irrelevance as consumers purchase feeds directly from producers.

But I predict that the NBN’s biggest legacy will be what it does to our cities: much less use of transport, and far less need to be in a city office. True telecommuting will be the norm. The commercial property sector will face upheaval (just as the retail property sector is starting to come under pressure now). There will be less (not more) road use, fewer cars, and less fuel consumption. There will be less demand to live in or near to a city (subject here to education needs). There will be lower carbon emissions (construction and transport are enormous greenhouse gas emitters). It might be a less than modest use of hyperbole to suggest that the NBN might be the most efficient carbon abatement available. Now that would be disruptive.

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