Video Podcast – IPRIA Seminar on Banning Tobacco Logos

Last week, IPRIA organized a public seminar on the banning of tobacco logos. I have just posted videos at http://vimeo.com/album/232376. Drop by for an interesting debate on private versus social costs, Government policy and WIPO/TRIPS. Details of the seminar and Powerpoint slides from each presenter are on the IPRIA website.

The Australian Government recently announced its intention to ban the use of artwork and logos in the branding of tobacco products, effective from 2012. In this seminar, four distinguished speakers, comprising: Professor Mark Davison (Law, Monash University); Professor John Freebairn (Economics, University of Melbourne); Associate Professor Angela Paladino (Marketing, University of Melbourne) and Mr Tim Wilson (Institute for Public Affairs), consider the economic, legal, ethical and marketing implications of this decision.

Rising house prices will improve apartment living

sale advertisementAnother weekend, another friend anxious about buying a house, another group of people stopping me in the elevator for the “inside scoop” about whether it’s good to live in our building. Maybe it’s a bubble but at least for now property prices are continuing to rise causing concerns about affordability. Yet I predict that at least one good thing will come out of this: the governance of inner city residential buildings will improve. In the past, Australians would only live in the suburbs, leaving city apartments for “visitors and students, temporary contractors, some empty nesters and some committed dinks“, i.e., people like me. As house prices increase faster than apartment prices, an increasing number of Australians and permanent residents are now choosing to live in apartments in the city. It’s already happening quite a bit in our neighbourhood. This will finally put pressure on body corporates, lawmakers and Councils to improve the governance of apartment buildings, which is presently very poor. In the past, residents of apartments were an unimportant constituent (non voting, and without a long-term interest), and most owners were just distant investors. As a result the laws on apartment living and the governance processes  in Australia are under-developed. For example, in Melbourne it is currently a tedious and long-drawn process to take action against a tenant/owner for bad behavior and flouting the rules (I know this first hand as I sit on an owners corporation committee). Another example is parking, a big problem in residential buildings. On occasion we have found vehicles illegally parked in our spot. In Australia, a Body Corporate can do very little about this unlike in other countries. When we lived in Boston and Singapore such cars would have been towed away and a fine imposed, but in Australia all you can do is ask the Body Corporate to put a sticker on the offender’s car. They cannot tow it away as apparently a carpark is “private property”. Recent changes are promising and in the proposed Melbourne CBD parking plan for 2008-2013, concerns such as these may finally be addressed. This mini revolution is occurring because apartment living has become a serious housing option for Australians. It doesn’t require everyone and those with large families to move to the city, all it requires is enough momentum.

SimpleTax

I’ve been pushing for several years for a simplified tax filing system, in which the ATO would send all Australians a pre-filled return, with the option of choosing to accept it with a simple phonecall (though if a person wanted to claim deductions, they’d be free to do so). Over the weekend, a piece in the NYT discusses the parallel push now taking place in the US.

The I.R.S., however, isn’t rushing to offer returns that are already filled in. In the 2009 report to Congress of its Taxpayer Advocate Service, it noted that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama proposed giving taxpayers “the option of pre-filled tax forms to verify, sign and return.” The report said “it is not feasible at this time” because the agency receives W-2 data from the Social Security Administration and 1099 data from financial institutions too late in the filing season, “much later than most eligible taxpayers would be willing to wait.”

And a cute analogy:

Requiring taxpayers to file returns without being told what the government already knows makes as much sense “as if Visa sent customers a blank piece of paper, requiring that they assemble their receipts, list their purchases — and pay a fine if they forget one,” said Joseph Bankman, a professor at the Stanford Law School.

Should Genes be Patented?

Should Genes be Patented? This is a question of tremendous importance, and one that is the subject of an Australian Senate Inquiry. Chris Dent and I sent in a submission on behalf of IPRIA and CITE, which is available here. We believe there is insufficient empirical evidence (yet) upon which to make specific changes to patent law. Other people have quite different views, as expressed in their submissions. Next month, we are organizing a CITE & IRIA public event on this topic. It will include a discussion by four panelists: Gillian Mitchell of the PeterMac Cancer Centre, Gregory Mandel from Temple University, Dianne Nicol from the University of Tasmania, and Dan Peled from Haifa University in Israel. The event will be chaired and moderated by Joshua, and will include a 45-minute public debate. Post your thoughts here. Or better still, sign up for the event at http://www.ipria.org/events/seminar/Patenting%20Genes.html

Broadband in the AFR

An opinion piece that summarises my position on broadband has come out in today’s Australian Financial Review. Full text over the fold. Continue reading “Broadband in the AFR”

Untimed mobile calls

For years, Telstra has complained about untimed local calls. Why? Because those folks who chatter for a long time take up valuable network bandwidth and have no incentive to economise. Well, that was the past. With the capacity now running across telco wires, this perhaps is not a major issue.

But what about mobile calls? Today, Telstra announced plans for untimed mobile calls (click here). Pay 25c and you can talk for as long as you like. But wireless networks have real congestion issues. Moreover, Telstra will have to pay for timed calls to carriers to connects to and, under accounting separation, to itself. So who is going to pay for the cost of people hanging on the mobile phone? It is a bit of a mystery.

No USO for broadband

The recent debate in Australia over FTTN has centered around the vexing issue of “economies of scale.” The argument is that FTTN requires a big lump of investment. Unless private firms can be assured of earning a decent rate of return on that entire lump, it is not worth investing. At present, for that stated reason, none of the investment is supposedly taking place. Continue reading “No USO for broadband”

So much for competition, again

The headline on news.com.au reads: “Foxtel is Telstra’s IP Choice.” I read, “Telstra has no intention of competing with Foxtel.” The article quotes BigPond chief Justine Milne:

The way I define IPTV will be pay TV delivered over IP (internet protocol) networks … We have already got a really fantastic pay-TV company in Foxtel.

My translation: “why on earth would we compete with something we own?”

And this is precisely why we destroyed competition by letting Telstra do what other telcos around the world dream of: holding the copper and cable networks. Jerry Hausman and I wrote the other week that this had harmed competition in telephony. Well, it is pretty clear that it will also harm future competition in television. Like we had a ton of that already!

Telstuffed in the AFR

Today’s Australian Financial Review carries an opinion piece by myself that outlines more completely my argument that the government’s current privatisation plans represent a half-way house under the cloud of the Future Fund. Actually, that Fund should be renamed the Fog Fund as it seems designed to hide away failed government policy. (Click here for the article).

Shared WiFi

Nick Gruen describes his experiences in networking his house and extolls the virtues of WiFi. His main idea — which is something I have thought about too for some time — is that we are thinking about wireless networking the wrong way. Currently, it is seen as a security threat — the view of the veto holder in our household. One reason for it being seen that way is that it is; outsiders can surf on your bandwidth and can also potentially access your own data. The latter is a big problem (although it is likely to pervade wired as much as wireless networks) while the former is, as Gruen points out, the solution to other issues. Namely, households are not the relevant unit for purchasing broadband; neighbourhoods are. Saavy internet providers should be thinking about how to network neighbourhoods.

Of course, I am almost sure there are terms in network access agreements that surely prevent this. But if that is the case, then it is removing restrictions on legitimate sharing and neighbourhood investment that should be a priority for governments.