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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen. 18 October 2019, 4:23 pm

Paul Matthews is away this week in Seoul, working with representatives from a group of other countries on a regional ICT skills initiative. Here's TechBlog Editor Paul Brislen's take on news this week.

The Lucky Country

I'm sure there are plenty in the industry who have looked at Australia and wondered just what on earth is going on.

The NBN project, initially slated as a whopping A$42 billion project but which has blown out to A$50 billion, has delivered appalling results, clouded with in-fighting, back stabbing and political machinations enough to keep a Roman empire busy for years and shows no signs of abating any time soon.

Just this week the Telstra chair, John Mullen, told his annual meeting that the NBN was a trash fire and the only way forward would be for the government to write off A$30 billion of value.

He says strong competition in Australian telecommunications "was always going to build 100Mbit/s broadband access and speed to a majority of the population in Australia".

That's right, they're aspiring to 100Mbit/s still after spending A$50 billion. Remarkable really.

Of course, Australia has never really had "strong competition" at all. It's had a former state-owned monopoly that has slowly but surely walked backwards slowly fending off regulation and which has delivered wonderful value for a small pool of shareholders right up to the current cycle where it's crashing like the Hindenburg.

Instead, Australia has had one large player (Telstra) that has dominated both mobile and fixed line, is vertically integrated and which has crushed the life out of any attempts to free up the industry.

The chair does acknowledge that Telstra is "partly" to blame for the NBN debacle - although he does so by throwing former CEO Sol Trujillo under the bus for his refusal to play ball when NBN was first mooted.

That's where the UFB worked and NBN failed, in my view. Telecom was told it couldn't join in unless it separated - Telstra was allowed to carry on regardless. Strategic error, I think.

Thankfully, the flow-on effects of all that madness have not impacted on New Zealand terribly much, despite Chorus choosing to hire a succession of former Telstra executives (ED: is two a succession?) to run the company.

One good thing did come out of the AGM though. As ever, a 5G protestor stood up to challenge the company on using death rays on his or her children (or some such) and the chair reacted superbly.

"There is absolutely not one shred of evidence that 5G or for that matter, 4G, has any harmful effect on humans," Mullen said, according to ZDNet.

"And I realise for those that believe - like anti-vaccination or even the Flat Earth Society - it is very hard to change people's opinion."

Interestingly, Telstra ran a series of tests in and around homes and businesses close to its 5G sites.

"In the testing we completed inside apartments and cafes near our 5G Innovation Centre at Southport on the Gold Coast, we measured 5G EME levels consistently under 0.02% of the ARPANSA standard limit -- that is more than 5000 times below the safety limit put in place by the Australian government body responsible for EME," Telstra principal EME strategy, governance and risk management Mike Wood said.

I'm often asked about the safety limits for electromagnetic emissions (someone's got to do it) and it works like this. The only physical effect that has ever been measured from EMF is a mild warming effect so the regulators worked out how much energy would be required to raise the temperature by 1 degree Celsius and set the limit at 1/100th of that. That's the maximum output allowed - but most sites in New Zealand sit at around 2% of that limit.

In effect, to raise the temperature by one degree you would need to surround yourself with 5000 towers all operating full capacity aimed directly at you. And of course if you did find yourself in that situation, you could take off your jumper, or just move about a metre away and it would dissipate because EMF isn't cumulative.

It seems that 5G uses even less power than 4G so you'll need to build a few more dozen towers to keep you warm on a cold winter's night.

The Guardian - Telstra admits company must accept some of the blame for the NBN

AFR - Telstra chairman blames Trujillo for NBN mess

ZDNet - Telstra chair likens 5G health truthers to anti-vaccination and Flat Earth movements

ZDNet - Telstra finds 5G energy levels sitting well under safety limits (July 2019)

Chorus - Chorus names JB Rousselot as its new CEO

ARN - NBN moves goalposts for broadband speed ranking


Fake news

Facebook was called out this week by the CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, who describes the social media giant as "the new cigarettes" and claims Facebook is a publisher and should be held to account for the propaganda that takes place on its platform.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was busy on a charm offensive of his own, dining with right wing politicians and media types in order to discuss how better to make Facebook a champion of free speech. Meanwhile, Facebook settled a raft of charges relating to the way the company reported its video click rates. In effect it inflated the numbers  at a time when click throughs were the key metric driving a huge sea change in terms of advertising dollar spend away from mainstream media towards video and online content.

Facebook paid a a US$40 million settlement. Facebook's profit in the last quarter of last year was just shy of US$7 billion.

And as Facebook continues to face criticism of the way it handles "alternate news" (that is, propaganda or outright lies) from high profile people, especially politicians, Twitter has managed to shoot itself in the foot as well by declaring that while it would ban "normal" people for saying certain things, when it comes to politicians they're just too high profile to ban. So they can say whatever they like on Twitter, it's in the public's interest to see them in full flight.

I can see where they're coming from, but ultimately giving a platform to inaccuracies, outright lies and fabrications without any form of control just doesn't really deliver the positive outcomes that I think we'd all like to see. And as Facebook retreats behind a wall of PR fakery and outright protectionism, blocking attempts to see under the hood and declining to participant in regulatory reviews around the world, its profitability continues to rise.

The real question is: at what cost?

Salon - Facebook gets a slap on the wrist for setting fire to the fourth estate

Pro Publica - Facebook Moves to Block Ad Transparency Tools - Including Ours

CNN - Twitter explains why it hasn't suspended Trump's account

Twitter - About public-interest exceptions on Twitter

The Verge - Zuckerberg: 'I don't think it's right for a private company to censor politicians'


The above views are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of ITPNZ.


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Steve Cosgrove 18 October 2019, 5:35 pm

"... political machinations enough to keep a Roman empire busy for years ..." WTF?

You were listening to Joe Gillard on Nine To Noon Wednesday: "Good thing about knowing lots of obscure

historic words is that you can use some of them to sound epic in

everyday conversations." :-)

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