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Earth calling Canberra: anybody listening?

Earth calling Canberra: anybody listening?

It is not often one finds oneself on the same side of the argument as the Minister for Communications Senator Richard Alston. Let me tell you it is an uncomfortable situation for a man in my position. Working in the Internet sector, I seem to spend an awful lot of time bagging out the Victorian Senator, whether it's over his ridiculous datacasting regime, impotent censorship laws or paternalistic online gambling legislation.

So imagine my chagrin when the latest missive from the minister arrived and I found myself fully attuned to his argument - thumping the desk, indeed, in outraged expressions of support.

At issue were comments by Labor spokesperson Kate Lundy in a magazine article indicating the ALP intends separating IT from telecommunication policies.

The Rickster reckons Labor's plan to unscramble the egg is a bit counter-revolutionary, given everything that has happened to the industry in the last decade, and he says so in his release.

The only fault in Alston's response is that for once he is understating his case. Lundy's plan, as reported in Computerworld, is one of the stupidest bits of product differentiation to come out of an opposition in years. If this is the quality of policy they are going to unleash on us (if, as seems likely, they get elected later this year), then it's small wonder they have been keeping their ideas tightly hidden from public scrutiny.

According to the article, Lundy indicated: "Under a Labor Government, IT and telecommunications will be separated. The National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) will be under an IT and industry portfolio, as it is seen as an economic development driver." Her rationale? She says: "Telecommunications is basically a regulatory portfolio and should not be positioned with IT; we will also change the focus of NOIE which has been too set on controlling and restricting content instead of simply facilitating Internet growth."

Earth calling Canberra; come in Senator Lundy! Everything about the IT&T sectors for the last 10 years has screamed convergence. Any separation of the two by Labor would be purely artificial, and frankly, counter-productive. And by counter-productive I mean dumb, profoundly dumb. Information and telecommunications are intrinsically linked: think networks, think voice over IP, think Internet. For god's sake, just think.

There are a myriad of supporting arguments we could make on this point; let's just pick one. From James Richardson, senior vice-president for Cisco Systems' enterprise line of business: "With the technology to deliver centralised call processing, I think [customers] will find that the operational savings are going to be massive. The ability to bring all your call processing and all of your apps back into the glass house and manage it centrally is going to be a huge cost savings."

It is a bit like Labor's partly pregnant policy towards private ownership of Telstra. There I go, agreeing with the Victorian Senator again. To make matters worse, this morning I found out the good senator is also a republican - that's thrice in one week we have lined up on the same stage together. Don't let me anywhere near a ballot box. I can't be trusted.

(Being an equal opportunity editor, I should point out that I also found some reports in Computerworld highly critical of the Feds' IT policies, specifically outsourcing, and outlining in detail the problems and pitfalls of their approach, which I sent to Senator Lundy for her amusement. The articles were written in 1997. No-one listened then. No-one is listening now.)


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