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Welcome to the digital enlightenment

Daniel Wood | July 15, 2013
Connection speed is only a minor factor in the delivery of better broadband services in this new 'connected renaissance', argues Daniel Wood.

There was a great deal of debate last month after an engineer published a website showing the comparative speeds of the federal government's NBN and the Coalition's plan for broadband.

While it is interesting to compare how long it will take to upload an album of photos under each of the proposals, the better measure of policy is how many people can upload those photos rather than how fast it can be done.

While the current plan for fibre-to-the-home is undoubtedly faster than fibre-to-the-node (the Coalition's alternative), fibre-to-the-node is cheaper for customers and will arrive sooner.

The Coalition's plan may not allow you to download Game of Thrones in the blink of an eye, but it will do much more to assist entrepreneurs and businesses and to spark the next digital enlightenment.

This is vital because rarely in human history have the ingredients necessary for a creative explosion existed in one place at one time. The Renaissance, for example, was made possible by the concentration of a small group of talented individuals in the same place at roughly the same time, both collaborating and competing with each other.

Continual contact, interpersonal competition and constant innovation over a sustained period fostered a remarkable period of cultural, intellectual and social growth.

Those same factors started the digital revolution. It's no surprise that the city of Palo Alto in California has been the incubator of companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, and Logitech. The Silicon Valley hub has allowed terrific competition and cooperation since 1953.

The innovation created from the resulting creative friction has been startling, from the miniaturisation of technology to the development of whole new business practices.

In both Florence and the Silicon Valley, the close proximity of players, a stable culture of innovation, support from a larger body and a pool of talented individuals together created something very special.

But the world has now changed. Physical proximity is no longer required to enable a burst of innovation.

Instead of collaboration and completion occurring from a meeting in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence or in the refectory at Stanford University, this process is occurring in bedrooms and garages, in home offices and in wifi-enabled parks through applications like Skype, Jabber and Lync.

Only ubiquitous broadband can make this process actually work -- the speed of the connection is only a minor factor.

The Internet has also made the creative process much cheaper. Whereas once artists, scientists and humanists had to make their way to Florence, southern California or other centres of learning and activity to participate, the price of admission is now as simple and as cheap as a broadband connection and a strong idea.


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