It seems, the role that information and communication technologies (ICT) can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been accepted by at least one world leader, if not by many others. The stand-up-and-be-counted guy is the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd – who will be attending the global climate change meeting in Copenhagen this week.
Speaking to a broadband conference in Sydney earlier today Mr. Rudd said the reduction in travel costs made possible by the use of telepresence video conferencing technology and the facilitation of smart metering energy usage monitoring are two reasons why the country’s National Broadband Network (NBN) will be successful in reducing the country’s carbon emissions by an impressive five per cent.
“Together, the NBN and CPRS (carbon pollution reduction scheme) are critical to Australia's efforts to address climate change,” he said.
"It is also essential for many of the technologies that will help us reduce carbon emissions, improve health services, create a world class education system and improve opportunities for all Australians, no matter where they live,” he added.
The ICT sector has been arguing for both a recognition and an emphasis at the Copenhagen summit meeting on the role it can play in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The head of the GSM Association (GSMA), Chief Executive Rob Conway, said last month that with the right public policies in place, the mobile industry could make a major contribution to the fight against global warming, lowering emissions in other sectors by more than 4.5 times mobile's own footprint. “Which " as he pointed out, "is the equivalent of taking one in every three cars off the road."
Mr Rudd used the example of Cisco and Microsoft’s recently achieved and remarkable reduction in travel costs to highlight the potential of video conferencing via the NBN. The Australian government announced that it is to install 20 telepresence suites around the country in February 2010 to facilitate government interaction - including ministerial meetings between states and the federal government - and also to save on travel and emissions.
Australia’s Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Minister, Stephen Conroy, says a deal with Telstra to assist with the construction of the NBN is close to agreement. He adds that he hopes to be able to announce something positive "before Christmas".
Telstra’s public policy supremo David Quilty told a Sydney conference earlier in the week that Telstra is negotiating in good faith and “seeking an outcome that is in the interests of the nation and the industry as well as Telstra shareholders, customers and staff”.
Minister Conroy has laid legislation before the Australian Parliament that will force Telstra structurally to separate - as BT did in the UK. (Telstra itself opposes the plan and estimates it will cost it between A$500 million and A$1 billion.)
While hitting them with a stick with one hand, Stephen Conroy needs to pat Telstra on the head with the other because he needs the company’s help to complete the NBN as quickly as possible. There's also the fact that the government might have to buy/sequester Telstra’s fixed lines for the NBN. Thus in the midst of a very public debate, including a full-on Senate inquiry, he has also been involved in four solid months of intensely complex negotiations with the telco.
The possibility that the government might decide to provide the new NBNCo with Telstra's fixed-line network might have been part of the master plan all along, but David Quilty says it will be not be necessary as Telstra’s fixed line business would effectively be rendered obsolete at about the same time as the NBN is fully functional.
“The industry is moving out of the legacy environment. The NBN will deliver a structurally separated, wholesale only, open access network commencing as early as next year and rolled out over the next eight years,” he said.
Mr. Quilty adds, “Sensible, practical equivalence and transparency measures maybe. But why, at the same time the NBN is being built, would one burden the industry with a hugely disruptive functional separation that'll be rendered obsolete by the time it's finished?”
Australia’s NBN broke ground in Tasmania in July and last week a successful tender by Nextgen Networks to lay almost 6,000 kilometres of fibre across the country, including much of the outback, to provide a “backbone” for the network was announced. This phase will cost A$250 million, funded by taxpayers.