This has been a watershed year for the internet in Australia. Sure, we’ve had it for 20 years. AARNet created our first live international connection  in June 1989, a satellite link running at a blistering 56 kilobits per second. We’ve had major commercial ISPs since OzEmail was founded 1994. But this year the internet moved to the centre stage of politics.

The Rudd government’s controversial plan for mandatory filtering is obviously a focus this week. Crikey already has plenty of coverage, so I’ll merely note that whenever the filter is mentioned it generates massive numbers of comments. Clearly it arouses passions on both sides of the argument.

As Tony Jones said on ABC TV’s Q&A in March, “we’ve never seen anything like the avalanche that Stephen Conroy has generated … We couldn’t print them up. We used too much paper, with more than 2000 people sending web and video questions about the government’s proposals.”

The other biggie was and still is the National Broadband Network. Again, passions.

A year ago we complained that after the first year of Ruddness we’d seen nothing of this NBN, and the planned 12Mb/sec fibre-to-the-node network was too slow. Now, it’ll be a 100Mb/sec fibre-to-the-home network, and it’s already reaching locations in Tasmania — thanks to the Tasmanian government’s well-advanced plans.

But dumping all the original tenders and instead launching Australia’s biggest public infrastructure project? Money well spent, as the OECD reckons? Or an extravagance — too much too soon?

Will forcing Telstra to split be seen as a decisive masterstroke, another overdue move? Or will it just create disgruntled shareholders?

These issues seem as much ideological as practical: private versus public funding, the digital future as inevitable and empowering or a fad.

In all of this, is communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy the decisive enabler of a bold digital future, or the village-idiot creator of an unworkable censorship scheme? Is he, as some have told Crikey, the first minister in 20 years to actually understand the portfolio and get things moving? Or is he, as Bernard Keane once put it, the Minister for Delaying Things?

The media, and especially newspapers, faced that digital future in rather stark terms, of course. Closures and cutbacks everywhere, and Rupert Murdoch announced his plan for revenge by blocking Google and suing the BBC, and then proposing a deal with Microsoft’s Bing.

Meanwhile, the movie and music industry’s global campaign against illegal file sharing hit the federal court in AFACT v iiNet, a case that will decide whether your ISP becomes copyright enforcer. After two weeks of hearings, we won’t know the decision until next year.

As the year draws to a close, all of these stories are full of questions, not answers. In 2009, many decisions were made, plans announced, dice cast — but we’ll only learn the results in 2010. If then.

This year also represented a phase shift in how people use the internet. More people now share their cool stuff by Facebook rather than email. Two-thirds of the world’s internet population uses social networking sites and the demographic profile of these users is, well, just us. Everyone.

And, yes, it must be said, 2009 was the year of Twitter. Not because Oprah or Ashton Kutcher found it, or Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott, but because it really did start to transform the way information spreads globally.

There will be a backlash against the Twitterhype. That’s inevitable. But there’s also something very strange and wonderful happening …

Peter Fray

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