The shiny new backwater

There are lots of things that are frustrating about living in the US (e.g., dealing with credit card solicitations when they have no intention of giving you a card, having to get a driver’s license all over again or living in fear of health insurance) but one of the things that is unquestionably an advance in civilisation is the state of television.

In Australia, TV is dictated at the behest of four networks and one cable provider. There is nothing reliable on the internet and paid for services like iTunes are crippled. In contrast, in the US, I subscribe to a single provider, Comcast, for all television, internet and phone requirements at the home. The television comes over a DVR that runs Tivo and so can be programmed from anywhere. But who cares about programming? They actually have an ‘On demand’ service that has all of the main programs you may have missed. And, of course, all of this is in real 1080i HD. And you can use the same service to watch and pay for new release movies so we don’t even own a DVD (that technology lasted less than a decade in our household).

But wait, there’s more. Not satisfied with that and you can watch much of the stuff online anyway. Hulu is a well designed service that really works. Of course, you can’t skip through ads but who cares. There is just one per break and they tell you how long it will last! And add to that that I face no download caps and you have all you want. (Oh yes, if you think I am stuck with US programming and that is a minus — not from my perspective but others might think so — then think again. I got to see Doctor Who the day it aired in the UK.)

Finally, the phone on top of this costs pretty much nothing. I can call anywhere in the US and Canada for the cost of a local call — which turns out to be $0 per minute. The voice mail is accessible online so I don’t have to be at home to pick up. In any case, I use Google Voice which calls all my phones and so I don’t really have to be worried about receiving calls at home. In any case, if I’m watching TV and there is a call it will tell me who is calling on the TV. Now that is a benefit of an integrated communications service.

Australia puts up with continual crap on this front. None of the technology here is monopolised and non-transferable to Australia. I fear we will get a shiny new NBN with none of this and wonder why consumers don’t want to pay much to use it. It is like strapping a jet engine on to a horse buggy. Our persistent lagging on this suggests that we need government review to understand what is holding Australia back. At the moment, I don’t want to come home.

2 thoughts on “The shiny new backwater”

  1. Fixed costs, Josh.  When I took the job at Canterbury, Tyler Cowen warned me that NZ would teach me the importance of fixed costs.  Same goes for Australia.
    Hulu and all those services are huge fixed cost, low marginal cost businesses.  You’d think they could just expand to AUS/NZ, but the pipes between here and there aren’t thick enough and they wouldn’t have the rights sorted to do it anyway; getting the rights sorted out for each item in their libraries for non-US distribution likely swamps the potential revenues.

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  2. You say that “none of the technology here is monopolised and non-transferable to Australia”, but that’s wrong for content which is very often not licensed outside of America for some reason.

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