First we had the story that the UN wanted to promote the supply of wind-up laptops to third world countries. Surely there are higher priorities in these countries than the supply of computers. I haven't seen these computers up close, but I imagine they're pretty useless at putting food on the table or supplying clean drinking water. And, for those countries lucky enough to have high levels of nutrition, the highest priority should be giving them opportunities to increase their income and then they can decide whether they want to spend it on laptops, ipods, or whatever they goddamn please. Anyone still deluded by the view that the technology helps development should check out this report from the Economist (subscription required).
Then we had the 'funny if it wasn't serious' suggestion of Helen Coonan (the Minister for Communications) that the government should pay for digital set top boxes. Just when you thought Australian broadcasting policy couldn't get any worse, Coonan shows that she is indeed the rightful successor to Alston. Allegedly the raft of restrictions that the Government already apply (limiting the number of TV channels, not allowing 'multi-channelling' and mandating the transmission of 'hungry' high definition signals) are needed to reduce the adjustment pressures that incumbent broadcasters are facing. Well Coonan's surrender on the issue shows just how much 'adjustment' is actually going on: the transition is going so fast that the switch off date has been put back and the Government has to step in with wads of cash to get things moving. Has it occurred to her yet that some of the restrictions may actually discourage buying a digital set top box? Because of these restrictions a box provides no extra benefit to the vast majority of Australians who get good analogue signals and have average sized TVs. Perhaps instead of having a switch off date we could just start progressively blowing up analogue transmitters, reducing signal quality and finally getting those recalcitrant consumers to see the light!
Finally, Big Kim came out and topped them all today. He wants the Australian Government to build a fibre optic network across the country. Telstra recently estimated that this would cost a whopping $30 billion. Some might say that the network is a natural monopoly and the Government should pay for it. But the fact is that no one knows if fibre is the best for Australia. It's a big, sparse country and other telco networks such as wireless, ADSL2+ and satellite might be much more cost-effective. And, these alternative networks also provide competition which reduces the 'monopoly' of fibre anyway. Personally, I don't want Big Kim taking on these risks with MY money, especially given his track record on telcos.
In sum, Governments should stop telling people how to spend their money by providing them with the latest technological craze. Consumers are much better judges of what they need and instead of spending money on 'grand visions' it should be returned to the people.