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Internet Australia chair, directors, won't seek re-election

'Time for significant board renewal' and perhaps less sound and fury too

By Simon Sharwood, 6 Sep 2017

+COMMENT Five directors of Internet Australia have indicated they will not seek re-election in order to let the organisation renew itself.

Internet Australian (IA) is the Australian limb of the Internet Society, which bills itself as “the world's independent source of leadership for Internet policy, technology standards, and future development.” IA was formerly known as the Internet Society of Australia but changed its name to IA in May 2015 and promised to take a “central role in informing debates on Internet issues through the provision of rigorous technical and financial analysis.”

IA has since styled itself Australia's “not-for-profit peak body representing the interests of Internet users” and has over the last two years advocated strongly for a change in policy that would see nbn™, the company building Australia's national broadband network (NBN), directed to build a network that emphasises placing optical fibre as close as possible to users, even if that meant abandoning already-laid rollout plans.

That effort has seen IA achieve considerable prominence: executive director Laurie Patton often featured in media and spoke before parliamentary committees. But the organisation also attracted controversy, as nbn™ execs dismissed the IA executives and stated, before Parliament, that the organisation was economical with the truth.

But the organisation also saw several directors resign in recent times, some criticising IA's campaign on the way out the door. Murdoch vehicle The Australian noted Patton and IA Chair Anne Hurley had ties to the Australian Labor Party and previous nbn™ management respectively.

While IA's profile remains high, it attracted criticism from others within industry, who felt its focus on nbn™'s connection media were unproductive. Telco industry Comms Day today reports that senior telco industry execs and investors took issue with defamation threats IA made over the weekend, in which it warned Twitter users not to share recent articles in The Australian.

Matters had already come to a head at the organisation's August board meeting, when according to a statement sent to The Register, “executive director Laurie Patton and former chair George Fong told directors at a recent board meeting they believed it was time for a significant board renewal and that they were taking the first step to this end by not standing. Since then chair Anne Hurley has added her name to the list of retiring directors, along with long term director Chris Disspain and Chris Winter.”

“I've done what I was employed to do,” Patton told The Register, “to take IA from a largely invisible 'club for geeks' and turn it into a formidable source of neutral, expert technical advice and to increase the level of informed debate about Internet issues. I'll leave it to others to take the next steps.”

+Comment

IA certainly has achieved far greater prominence in the last couple of years, a feat for which it is to be congratulated.

But The Register found the group's arguments were sometimes difficult to sustain: it consistently said all copper networks nbn™ uses to deliver fibre-to-the-node services will need to be replaced in coming decades, but also advocated their retention for use in fibre-to-the-kerb networks. The organisation also argued that technologies like XG-Fast, which promises multiple-gigabits-per-second connections, would also require new copper, despite their being designed to let telcos use old copper plant for faster broadband services. The organisation was also seemingly unreceptive to nbn™'s assertion it could fund future upgrades, if needed, from future cashflow rather than building exclusively with fibre-to-the-premises.

Your correspondent also found that the organisation did not always meet its stated goal of providing “rigorous technical and financial analysis.”

Consider, for example, the remarks made by Dr Paul Brooks to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network on August 1st, 2017. At that hearing Dr Brooks said fast internet is needed to help “... a wedding photographer taking a day's worth of photos and trying to upload those over the course of a few minutes or hours to Dropbox, Microsoft Cloud, Google Drive or some of those off-line storage systems to make them available to their customers, which now takes longer than it takes to take the photos in the first place.”

To your correspondent's mind, the upload to the cloud isn't immediately necessary: a photographer could simply buy a small NAS device that includes a web server, then either use dynamic DNS or acquire a static IP address so the photos would be available as soon they'd moved from a camera to a disk. Slow uploads might prevent the photos reaching the relative safety of the cloud for a few hours, but would not prevent them being available online.

Needless to say, small NAS systems and dynamic DNS don't require a stack of Cisco certifications to comprehend.

Which is not to say that IA does not have a future advocacy role: it is lamentable that nbn™ appears to have inherited the poor interface between wholesalers and retailers than bedevilled retail telco competition in Australia and left Telstra in a position to stymie competition. Your correspondent is also aware of many users who are perfectly happy with 100Mbps connections provided by incumbent telcos, but who will soon be forcibly downgraded to inferior connections.

Australian internet users also face pervasive surveillance, are being called upon to cross-subsidise remote services and remain served by a small group of companies with little commercial interest in promoting true competition.

There's plenty for an advocacy group to argue for. And plenty of ways to score points in debate without sheer quantity of advocacy being considered the mark of success. ®

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