The wonders of the Internet

From my hotel room in London, I read this SMH report, headlined “NBN benefits ‘grossly overstated'” which in turn refers to a report by “British telecommunications consultant Robert Kenny and Charles Kenny from the US Centre for Global Development” released (in London, as it happens) a couple of days ago.

Five minutes with Google is enough to determine that

* the Centre for Global Development is a genuine and reputable thinktank, with no particular axe to grind

* Charles Kenny is not what you might call an Internet enthusiast, having written, in 2002, a piece entitled Should we Try to Bridge the Global Digital Divide.

Kenny’s answer is “No”, which doesn’t seem to be the view of people in poor countries. According to this graph from Wikipedia’s article on the topic, the proportion of developing country people with Internet access in 2007 was the same as that of the developed world in 1998, which suggests that by now, developing countries must have already reached the 2002 developed-world access rates Kenny said they didn’t need.

That’s not to say that Kenny might not be right this time. But, so far, betting against the idea that people will want faster and more powerful communications and computers has not had a good track record.

30 thoughts on “The wonders of the Internet

  1. What is the Oz government actually trying to do?

    Get re-elected.

    Seriously. We had a very strong balance sheet as a country (nil public debt) under our version of the Republicans (Americans would think of them as right wing Democrats or the liberal wing of the Republicans so they’re more of a centrist party) and they got turfed out for a big spending Labor Party (our version of the centre-left wing Democrats).

    As good earnest middle class types they decided super high speed bradband and climate change were key policies and wasted huge sums of money on both rather than either preserving the country’s balance sheet or spending it building genuinely productivity enhancing infrastructure.

    At the same time Hong Kong is rolling out a wireless broadband solution, seems to me that mobility and high speed will be far more useful than fixed point ultra high speed so it seems we’re building the equivalent of the Simpson’s Springfield Monorail.

  2. One of the major cost factors in the NBN is universal access. If the access was cut to (eg) 85% you’d expect much greater drop in cost. How could you quantify this benefit?

  3. Rob #27 – your bias is showing. You really should stop listening to Tony Abbott who has not yet discovered the on button on a computer.

    The NBN is building “genuinely productivity enhancing infrastructure”. Wireless is not a good option except for the most difficult to access areas for a number of well publicised reasons – including the massive numbers of towers required and the limitations of the technology. Hong Kong can manage it because of the density of population in a small area.

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