(mis)adventures in software development...

02 December 2013

National Broadband Cyber-Futility

Category Technology

Digitally Pissing in the Wind (Part 1)

With the Liberal Party winning the election as expected, they now get to make good on their election promise/threat to take everything that was good and holy in Labor’s FTTP National Broadband Network and replace it with a hellishly cheap and nasty FTTN abomination. Because here in Australia, we can’t have nice things, apparently. Like decent broadband. Or a technology industry. Or science. Or women cabinet ministers. At least not when the Liberal Party is in charge.

Australia’s tentacle of every government’s favourite money-sucking vampire squid, Malcolm Turnbull, has taken over as Communications Minister, and we now get to watch with horror as Labor’s wonderfully aromatic, premium, full-bodied broadband brew gets unceremoniously flushed down the toilet, to be replaced with Turnbull’s crap-in-a-cup-and-call-it-coffee concoction.

Successive governments have screwed us on broadband, through various combination of incompetence, inaction, and ideology. Labor’s NBN was a bright spark in Australia’s dim and gloomy technology landscape. The Liberals are now going to do all they can to make sure Labor’s visionary plan for near universal FTTP broadband will be relegated to history as just a geeky cock tease — a political mirage in an otherwise barren desert of Labor Party incompetence and pointless infighting.

Now, the Liberal Party gets to screw us. Again. Which is hardly surprising, but all the more galling because this represents an opportunity for the Liberal Party to fix a problem they created. Australia’s current broadband mess is in large part a result of the Howard government privatising Telstra without structural separation. Now that they’re in office once again, they have the opportunity, after decades of inaction, to throw out the ancient copper and put Australia on the path to a modern broadband network. Instead, they’re just going to screw us all over again.

What’s really depressing though, is how this just seems to be another example of politicians, lawyers and other Merchants of Bullshit doing whatever they can to screw geeks. It’s the same pattern playing out over and over again. It’s the same pattern that’s been happening for decades now. And despite many embarrassing defeats, the geeks seem to have learned nothing about fighting back effectively.

Of course, it’s a global phenomenon, this attack on geek interests. From software patents to DRM in music files; from DMCA to region codes of DVD and Blue Ray; from the ever present threat of internet censorship to the many other subtle and not so subtle ways of stripping us of our rights and privacy online. Geeks are being screwed. It’s the bullies of the adult world telling geeks they can’t play here. It’s the established players enlisting thugs in suit with law degrees to legislate and sue the geeks into submission, put them in their place. To make it clear the geeks should fuck right off and play somewhere else, when their disruptive technology happens to encroach on someone else’s turf. In Australia, the NBN has become just another example of this.

The problem is that geeks are doing what geeks always do when they’re displeased: whining about it online. They’re blogging, and tweeting, and posting in whatever online forum they can. Which is all well and good, as long as we don’t labour under any misconception that anything we do online will make any tangible difference in the real world.

If it’s not exactly a war, it’s at least a game, of sorts. It’s us, the geeks, against them, the Merchants of Bullshit in power. And we play the game particularly badly. Because this is not a game that is played online, in blogs or social media. It’s played out in the real world. It’s played with lawyers, lobby groups, propaganda/advertising, think tanks, bribes (i.e. “campaign donations”). It’s played with spin, with communicating effectively to a possibly apathetic public, with courting the influence of those with money and/or power, and with all the tools of influence and persuasion that money and power can command. Blog posts and trending hashtags are just so much digital pissing in the wind, which will ultimately achieve nothing. As usual.

Even an online petition, no matter how successful, is unlikely to make any difference in itself, though it may have some utility in fomenting dissent. Petitions are essentially a democratic distraction — merely a mirage provided to the powerless to give them the illusion of influence, in a way least likely to actually influence anything. I doubt Turnbull and his corporate puppet masters are quaking with fear because of an online petition. Turnbull even had the balls to try to reframe the petition as undemocratic, which is an indication of the unabashed, high level bullshit we are dealing with here.

Turnbull claims the Coalition’s election victory gives them a mandate to implement crappy broadband. This conveniently ignores that the election was lost by Labor and their laughable leadership squabbles, rather than won by the Liberals with their laughing-stock Luddite leader.

Australia grudgingly elected the Liberal party with a mandate to never let either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard become Prime Minister ever again — and nothing more. And given our suitably low expectations of politicians, this is pretty much all we can reasonably expect the Liberals will successfully achieve while in office. Well, that, and probably some sort of sexting scandal, which seems to be disturbingly obligatory these days. No electorate in the world has ever given any politician a mandate to send pictures of their genitals to unsuspecting users of social media, yet there seems to be quite a bit of that going on around the world at the moment. Perhaps politicians are labouring under a misconception that social media exists only for them to distribute pictures of their privates.

Instructively though, some Merchants of Bullshit know how to play the game so well that even stupidly embarrassing scandals don’t always preclude disgraced degenerates from running for public office. If abject failure and public humiliation are the modern day prerequisites for power, then who do we have to send pictures of our genitals to around here to get a decent broadband network built? Which call girls must we have adulterous liaisons with before the politicians take our concerns seriously?

The reality is even if every single person in Australia signed the petition, Turnbull and the Liberals would still argue that they have a mandate to do whatever they hell they want. Because they can. Because they know they can get away with it. Because they know the worst that will happen is some snarky blogs and tweets will be written.

The online vitriol is certainly not working so far — Turnbull has simply dismisses all the post-election criticism as reckless. Yes, it’s reckless for people in the technology industry to comment on issues affecting the technology industry, according to Malcolm. It’s reckless for those who understand the technology, who work with the technology day in day out, who can offer insight into the issues — it’s reckless for them to offer an informed opinion. It’s reckless for people who work in the industry to comment on matters that will directly affect their livelihood.

Instead, in the bullshit alternate universe of politics inhabited by Malcolm and the Liberals, the best people to make technical decisions about essential communications infrastructure in Australia are economists and lawyers and accountants. Especially if they’re Liberal Party cronies.

The process of democracy will of course be best served by an endless — and no doubt expensive — series of committees and reports and reviews, overseen by technically clueless public servants, carefully selected to deliver the predetermined outcome Turnbull requires. Because that’s the democratic way, apparently. Many have accused Turnbull of hypocrisy, which seems kind of redundant, given hypocrisy is sadly not just synonymous with politics, but a prerequisite for success. Hypocrisy is the aioli in the gourmet bullshit burger of modern politics.

Hypocrisy is now as closely entwined in politics as sexting scandals. And as Australia’s 44th Parliament unfolds, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of both. Whether we want to or not. All that’s left is to wait and see exactly how we’re going to get screwed over by this new government of hypocritical, lying, cheating, backfliping and sexting parliamentary buffoons.

All we can do now is pray and hope that if there is going to be a sexting scandal, it doesn’t involve Clive Palmer. Because no one deserves to be subjected to that.

Given the level of crazy Clive displayed before he was elected, if he does become afflicted with whatever strange malady causes elected officials to think it’s a good idea firstly to take pictures of their genitals, and secondly to share those pictures with others via the internet, then let’s hope his aides can keep him in check. (“Clive, what are you doing? Clive, put that phone down and put your pants back on. Hey Clive, look over there! Clive! Put your pants on and look out the window there. Look! Over there. Isn’t that Wendi Deng doing secret Chinese spy shit? And over there! Look! Isn’t that a box of votes the AEC has been hiding from you? Look, Clive, look!“)

Let’s hope everyone can keep it in their pants during their term in office. After all, they have important work to do, screwing the geeks and the country out of a decent broadband network, amongst other things. And until us geeks learn how to play the bullshit game of politics, as distasteful as it may be, they’re going to keep screwing us. Until we work out how to play the game in the real world, no matter how much we blog or tweet or sign petitions, we’re not going to get the broadband we want or need — we’re going to get the broadband Turnbull and his corporate puppet masters want us to have.