2020 in Communications Day

In today’s industry rag, Communications Day, an article about my thoughts on what the 2020 Summit might mean for telecommunications [reproduced over the fold]. Bottom line: I don’t expect to be talking about fibre to the node but do expect to be talking about regulation and privacy.

“2020 telecoms agenda: “much tricker” issues ahead” by Luke Coleman

Participants in the upcoming 2020 Summit are likely to be debating a range of telecoms issues very different to the current policy agenda, according to summit participant Joshua Gans. Gans, a professor of economics and author of ‘The Local Broadband Imperative’ report, is one of the invited 1,000 delegates announced Saturday. He will be speaking in the ‘productivity agenda’ section of the summit focussed on education, skills, science and innovation, and told CommsDay that the issues Australia’s telecommunications sector will face in 2020 will be “much trickier” than investment and infrastructure.

“What might come up are issues of investment in infrastructure and how we get that going, but from my perspective those are the debates that have been very well trodden prior to 2020… maybe with some hope people will start thinking forward and start thinking about issue such as privacy, which I think is a more 2020 issue,” Gans told CommsDay.

“The difficult thing to think about is what’s going to be the next set of issues that will impact the government and telecommunications, that’s a much trickier question to answer. We’ve all been focussed on current issues in this industry.”

Gans said that while issues like the government’s planned $4.7 billion fibre-to-the-node network dominate today’s interest, infrastructure may play a smaller role in 12 years time. “In 2020, I think I’m pretty safe to say we’ll all have fibre to the home. I think the relevant issues that might come up in this space are the issues of privacy and… health.”

He said e-health initiatives such as a possible centralised patient records database will be a national issue related to communications infrastructure. “I think that will be something that leverages off the telecommunications infrastructure, it might be a big thing we see and it’s going to require a lot of government involvement.”

Policy has been relatively stagnant over the past 12 years according to Gans, but he said that could be an area of much change. “I think it is true to say that in many respects our political understanding and our imagination of how we deal with telecommunications policy hasn’t moved a lot…this market’s changing all the time and in 12 years we’ll be talking about different stuff. The idea that policy may be wildly changing is probably not a bad thing.”

“Just thing about 12 years ago back in 1996, no one had broadband on the agenda, the initial investments were starting to be made, nobody had a mobile phone, all those issues… weren’t there, it’s quite extraordinary,” he said.

Gans believes that the 2020 Summit may shift the Australian telecoms industry’s perception of itself. “If we look through the history of Australia, we’re always behind when it comes to telecommunications and information technology. We always seem to be waiting… why is that the case?… maybe our perception of being behind isn’t true.”

Gans is one of several current and former telecom industry figures who made the 1,000 delegate cut. Others include former Telstra executive and Swinburne University chancellor Bill Scales, Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie, former Optus and Cable & Wireless executive Sam Mostyn, technology consultant and CSIRO board director Dr Terry Cutler, telecom lawyer Peter Waters and
Telstra board director Catherine Livingstone.

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