There’s a memorable quote in “Burn after Reading”, where John Malkovich’s character, Osborne, says to another, “You’re part of a league of morons.”
I think this, with some exasperation, every time I hear Tony Abbott finding another reason to demand the immediate cessation of the Australian National Broadband Network (NBN) programme.
I’m starting to gather the impression that it’s a conspiracy theory; not one formed from malice, but from … well, let’s be honest: stark raving stupidity.
The anti-NBN approach espoused by the coalition is fundamentally wrapped up in their overall inability to consider that climate change is:
- contributed to by human activities;
- something we have to deal with in this generation rather than putting it off.
John Howard started this trend, I think, by refusing to have Australia ratify the Kyoto accord all those years ago. But what did it matter? He was already counting down the years in life rather than counting up, so it wasn’t as if he was going to have to live in the world he was helping to create.
What, might you be asking, does climate change have to do with a national broadband network infrastructure roll-out? Well, oddly enough, there’s a big relevant comparison: telecommuting.
I’ve worked from home now since 2006, and I can honestly say that existing ADSL and ADSL2 infrastructure run over copper just doesn’t cut it. You can get by on the performance it gives, but unless you’re damn close to an exchange and have a really good incoming copper connection (neither of which I have), you have to structure your work around four fundamental considerations:
- Scheduling downloads to not impact with interactive sessions;
- Being prepared to kick-off larger work-related downloads overnight;
- Keeping a lot of local replicas;
- Keeping enough bandwidth available for VOIP/etc.
None of those are insurmountable, but they do require you to have different work processes to everyone else in the office.
Here’s where I think there’s a triumvirate of stupid ideas, creating a perfect storm in the heads of certain politicians (well, nature abhors a vacuum, after all):
- Traditional business is mistrustful of staff working from home … they might be unproductive! (Or, you can’t trust staff you can’t see!)
- Climate change isn’t happening!
- Governments spending money on infrastructure is bad!
The traditional, 19th century business approach is that employees should be at their desks from 9am to 5pm, possibly with overtime, and if they’re not at their desks they’re not working. (That approach is still followed today in some companies – e.g., where people are required to clock in and out when they go to the toilet, and make up time.)
Now I could play “studies at 40 paces” … there’s a multitude of studies out there that say that working from home is evil, and there’s an equal multitude that says that it’s fantastic. Instead it’s probably best to read this wikipedia article about telecommuting, as it mentions the positives and negatives. The reality is that working from home is a sliding scale where:
- It doesn’t suit at at all for some people;
- It suits exceedingly well than working in an office for others;
- A mix of at-desk and from-home suits others.
Obviously here I’m talking about office jobs. (There’s not much point sullying the argument with interjections about say, whether brickies labourers can work from home.)
However, I would like to see the federal government set a goal of encouraging office-based businesses to get a percentage of staff telecommuting as a result of the NBN. Maybe 25% of the traditional-offie workforce telecommuting at all times within 5 years of NBN being completed? Imagine the difference this would make to the roads and public transport infrastructure.
One of the inevitable consequences of accepting that climate change is a real issue – or as a side line, accepting that the decline of fossil fuels is a real issue – is that we can’t afford to continue the ancient business practice of everyone sitting within line-of-sight of their manager. Not only that, as cities continue to grow, we’re not really seeing any improvements any longer in commute times. A vast number of workers will regularly travel at least an hour each way each day to get to work. Those who use public transport can make some use of that time, but those who have to drive are stuck doing exactly that.
When people travel to work, they do it on their own time. If it’s a five minute walk, that’s fine. If it’s a ten minute drive – OK, that’s not too bad. When it’s an hour drive? A two hour public transport trip? A three hour public transport trip?
When I worked in Sydney, I commuted from Gosford, and didn’t drive to work. So I caught the train, which was a 5 minute drive to the station, a 5-10 minute wait for the train, a 1 hour 20 minute trip, then a 5 minute walk to the office. So on the best of days office work would cost me 2 hours 10 minutes of my personal time. Not so bad. But public transport frequently doesn’t run on time (well, in countries like Australia, anyway). So it was not unusual for that to become a 2 hour trip each way. Maybe 3 hours sometimes. I was lucky: the worst trip I had was a 6 hour trip in one direction. At least 4-5 times a year though I’d have a 4 hour trip. Overtime would then come into play, since public transport outside of business hours runs less frequently.
Traditional business doesn’t give a flying fuck about how long their employees take to get to work: it’s not as if they’re having to pay them for it. What they don’t realise though is they do. Australia has one of the highest rates of unpaid overtime in in the world for a modern democracy/economy. Unremarkably, it also has a strong tradition of the “sickie” … or as I like to call them, mental health days. Ultimately, businesses that don’t care how much personal time a staff member sacrifices to get to and from work reap their rewards through staff burn out.
Quite frankly, the conventional business practice of requiring all personnel to work in the office is:
- Destructive to the environment;
- Destructive to the personal life of the staff.
Many companies at least have started to realise this and offered telecommuting options for staff.
The coalition of morons in Australia, by demanding so frequently the end of NBN, are showing a complete lack of understanding for or appreciation of:
- The environment;
- Workers rights;
In fact, not only are Tony Abbot and his accomplices wrong on the NBN, the environment and workers rights, they’re working their damnedest to drag Australian business practices back to the 19th century. Unless they’ve got a secret plan for instantaneous teleportation and zero point energy up their sleeves, they’re suffering a reality dysfunction.
As an alternate to NBN, the coalition continues to offer a mentally deficient IT strategy based on wireless networking in most places and a peak speed of about 1.2MB/s. Apparently though, if you don’t pirate movies, that’s more than enough for you for the next 10+ years. The coalition see the internet as some great big play pen for games, multimedia downloads and pornography.
Productivity? You can only do that in a bricks and mortar office!
Well, if you’re part of a league of morons, that is.