Aug 26, 2009

They’re building data pipes under the ocean: why no media coverage?

Over the weekend, a new undersea fibre-optic data link from Guam to Sydney was fired up, which will increase Australia's international data capacity by almost 50%. Not that anyone seems to care.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

When we open a new lane on the Hume Highway, or a bridge or an airport runway or a container wharf, there’s a public ceremony. Ribbons are cut. Sausages are sizzled. Politicians hog the cameras. Newspapers run commemorative wrappers. In the lead-up, the media reports on the project’s progress as each milestone is reached. Or missed. All these things are “infrastructure”, the physical fabric of our society. It’s important news. So why don’t we see this level of attention when the infrastructure in question is the internet? Over the weekend, Pipe International’s new PPC-1 undersea fibre-optic data link from Guam to Sydney was fired up. As Crikey reported in May, when the cable was landed at Collaroy on Sydney’s northern beaches, PPC-1 will increase Australia’s international data capacity by almost 50%. That’s like adding the third runway at Sydney Airport. Yet apart from specialist IT media like iTnews there was just one solitary mainstream story. In The Australian. And even that was more about some scrag-fight with the Collaroy Plateau Cricket Club over the state of the turf. It’s not like this isn’t newsworthy. PPC-1 is a $200 million project run by a public company. In December 2008 it almost went under when negotiations with financial backers collapsed.  It was rescued three weeks later. There’s a competition angle. This is the first telco-neutral submarine cable for broadband. Previous ones have been owned by Tier-1 telcos like Telstra and Optus. Sticking it up the big telcos is always a great angle. Even though the cable itself is only as thick as your finger and, eventually, buried, there’s plenty of iconic imagery for photo opportunites. Ships battling the elements and even pirates. Brawny blokes hauling ropes. Spooky-looking data centres. iTnews editor in chief Nate Cochrane says trying to get coverage for anything related to IT is a constant problem. “I was at The Age for 11 years and the science writers and medical writers all have bloody foreheads from banging their heads on the table in frustration trying to get their stories up,” Cochrane told Crikey. “There’s this news desk culture which comes from a particular background where computers weren’t part of the furniture. A lot of the discussion has to be geared around a certain conversation that the paper is already having with its readers.” In other words, they’re stuck in a rut. The media’s lack of interest is matched by the politicians. Broadband minister Senator Stephen Conroy did launch the rescued PPC-1 project in January. Since then, nothing. How many dignitaries came to Pipe’s cable-landing ceremony in May? “None,” Bevan Slattery, Pipe International’s CEO, told Crikey. “We did have a representative from the Queensland government, but we didn’t have any politicians.” In a few days’ time, Pipe is sending out invitations to the launch of PPC-1 which, if all goes well, will be on 8 October. That mailout will include invitations to both the Prime Minister and Senator Conroy to formally open the new data link. “We’re inviting the PM because I think this is a massive success story for an Australian company,” Slattery told Crikey. “To get through the GFC and deliver this new capacity is a great achievement.” Are you up for it, Mr Rudd? Mr Conroy? I like the idea of some commemorative stamps, myself. Something with a Soviet Constructivist look might work.

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20 thoughts on “They’re building data pipes under the ocean: why no media coverage?

  1. TheOtherMichaelT

    50% is a massive gain, but explaining it’s significance it’s like trying to explain to most people why we need a fast broadband network…..maybe it requires some kind of a car analogy.

    Though realistically, i suspect it was becuase there was no good ‘hard hat/high visibility vest’ photo opportunity for our politicians. They love those you know.

  2. Rowan

    What does this increase in international data capacity mean in real terms to the average user?

  3. Pat Armstrong

    > maybe it requires some kind of a car analogy

    Wee, you know, it’s not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck.

  4. Warren

    In reply to Pat Armstrong;

    The ridicule that Ted Stevens received for this analogy is unfortunate. Sure, he’s well past retirement age, he bumbles a lot, I probably don’t agree with many of his political views, and he even misuses some terminology. But his “it’s a series of tubes, it’s not a big truck” analogy is actually quite a good one.

  5. Stilgherrian

    At the risk of being criticised for mentioning Twitter again, there’s been a rather robust discussion there this afternoon between me and people like @AndrewColley of The Australian and @renailemay of ZDNet Australia, both of whom quite rightly point out that they’ve been covering the PPC-1 cable. I acknowledge that coverage — their publications have both been doing good work — but my point is more about the relative coverage of these issues.

    The majority of Australians use the internet. Australians now spend more hours a week doing stuff online than watching TV or reading newspapers. But reporting on stuff that happens on the internet is still seen as something for specialist IT publishers or, if it’s affecting the share price, perhaps the business pages.

    I contend that we’d see a lot more coverage up the front of the book if it were highway, shipping or railway capacity that was being increased 50%.

    Where are the ABC stories? What are the Fairfax publications doing?


    @Rowan: What does it mean for the average user? More capacity and more competition means, ultimately, faster internet connections to other countries at cheaper prices — particularly for the smaller ISPs, who now have an alternative to buying from Telstra and Optus etc.

  6. dananimal

    I couldn’t agree more.
    The idea that ‘ICT is outside mainstream interest’ is a construct by media (and possibly for the media – if they’re the kind to feel challenged by technological change).
    With the average Jo increasingly using the interwebs for the management of their banking and purchasing of airfares and other expensive items, the nature of the interweb medium needs to become more and more mainstream.
    For society’s sake. Right now the general public are generally dangerously ignorant.

    Today I have read tech journos arguing that technology reporting ought remain segregated from the mainstream!?!

    So I guess if the story isn’t uber-scary (despite being only vaguely semi-accurate) like Four Corners last week (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2009/s2655088.htm) or Web Warriors (http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2008/webwarriors/) then it’s not valid for ‘mainstream’ audiences.

    Pick up your game media-junkies (I mean politicians) and you ‘mainstream’ media types – either learn to live on the learning curve or fail like the Fairfax papers ;p
    (how could they have missed the (obvious) opportunity of moving the ‘rivers-of-gold’ online?!?)

    (FWIW – Last weeks festival of new-media-fear on ABC1 seemed pretty suss to quite a few types).

  7. Gail Tuft

    (FWIW – Last weeks festival of new-media-fear on ABC1 seemed pretty suss to quite a few types).

    Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking that the mainstream media, including the ABC, goes out of its way to publish, print or broadcast any fear and doubt beat up they possibly can if the internet is involved. I haven’t seen any evidence of the ABC’s much publicised, balanced editoral policy on this issue. In the last 18 months balance has been conspicuous by its absence where IT is involved. Where are the knowledgeable IT industry groups, Australian Computer Society, SAGE or EFA when these issues are raised?

    This connection with Guam is important for a number reasons and should get more coverage. *sigh*

  8. jeebus

    This is a huge infrastructure boost for Australia. Bring on the competition!

  9. Stevo the Working Twistie

    How about: New internet infrastructure exposes our kiddies to more p*rn, violent online games and interweb gambling stuff. Damn – I should sub for the Tele. Penberthy, are you listening???

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