‘Rome was built faster than the NBN’
Perusing the financial pages recently, as I sometimes do to appear more intelligent to colleagues, I spied a curious tale.
The Federal Government is spending tens of millions - how much exactly, they refuse to say - laying an internet cable between Australia and the Solomon Islands.
It says everything about the state of our third world telecommunications that I felt I needed to read further to be sure that the cable is being laid for their benefit, not ours. Apparently so.
It's being done, we're told, to help counter the rise of Chinese "soft power". Forgive me, but I'm not sure subjecting our neighbours to Australian internet standards is the right way to win friends and influence people.
Although life is slow in the laid-back Solomon Islands, it's unlikely that means achingly slow Aussie internet is something they'll appreciate.
At my own home in Helensvale I last year received a letter from the NBN proudly announcing that I'd soon be connected.
There has indeed been much activity on my street. A host of friendly workmen have come and gone and there has been the installation of a smart green communications box which, after first appearing in my neighbour's garden, mysteriously moved to a spot just outside my front fence.
It's been idling there for some time since. Actually getting plugged into the NBN remains a distant prospect.
The company's website now predicts delivery by the end of March 2019, more than a year after first promised.
They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but it surely moved quicker than this. If NBN Co got the job we'd probably still be waiting for the final touches to be added to the Colosseum.
There are excuses for the delays of course, not that I much care to hear them any more. They say they're "working to upgrade" the network in my area. Upgrading something that, as far as the end user is concerned, does not yet exist.
It's reminiscent of the classic Yes Minister episode about the empty hospital, in which a minister is startled to discover that a facility the government has spent many millions on and which employs hundreds of staff has yet to admit a single patient.
In the meantime I struggle on with technology which was last considered the height of modernity in the days of Alexander Bell.
A quick run of the popular Speedtest.net app reveals my download speed to be just under 8.5 megabits per second (mbps). The same well-regarded website tells me that's the average speed achieved by users in Syria - not a country currently known for the healthy state of its infrastructure.
It's also well behind the Australian average, which Speedtest.net lists as 30.5 mbps. Not world-beating - it's 56th globally, just ahead of Kazakhstan - but far better than most of the Gold Coast is experiencing, indicating that, as with most kinds of infrastructure, we are once more left until last.
There is a very serious side to all this frustration. The Gold Coast has real ambitions to become a technology hub. And bar our internet, there is every possibility we can succeed.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jeremy Bloom listed off the very good reasons why the Gold Coast would be an attractive base for his company, Integrate, during a recent flying visit to the city.
"One of the things you guys (on the Gold Coast) have going for you is obvious and it's super important to Millennials and Gen Zs - it's quality of life," Mr Bloom told the Bulletin. "You have everything you could ever want here.
"Just being here for 45 minutes and flying over I can see compelling reasons for people to come here and enjoy their life."
Unfortunately, Millennials and Gen Zs also like fast, reliable internet services. Although companies like Mr Bloom's can be arranged in tech hubs with decent connections, his workers would be shocked to go home to nerd-repelling 8.5 mbps download speeds. And what Mr Bloom was talking about was finding a base that would attract the world's best software minds.
Obviously nobody told Mr Bloom this dirty little secret in his first 45 minutes here. Hopefully we can keep it to ourselves before he signs on the dotted line.
His comments, though, are proof of the potential wasted.
Council and our brilliant universities have shown enormous foresight in trying to attract new technology businesses to the Coast. Indeed council has even gone as far as laying its own high speed internet cable along the light rail line to help provide businesses with the sort of service that the NBN has failed to deliver.
But they will always be held back so long as the wider city suffers with such poor connections.
The Gold Coast Bulletin, as part of our Golden Age campaign, will next week reveal what our readers think of the city's internet service. It will be no big surprise to find that they'd like it to be better. A lot better.
It is scandalous that a full nine years after the NBN was founded, and despite the billions of dollars spent, a city like the Gold Coast still copes with speeds below the average found in places like Ethiopia (9.5 mbps on the Speednet rankings).
If the Federal Government has tens of millions of dollars to spend running cables to the Solomon Islands, is it too much to ask that they swing one by the Gold Coast too?
Then again, the Islanders should brace themselves for disappointment. While the companies contracted to lay the cable will no doubt do a good job, then what? If it means they're plugged into a system dominated by serial stuff-up artists Telstra and the NBN, delays and lost services will no doubt follow.
The tranquillity of the beautiful Solomon Islands could soon be replaced with a typical Aussie catchcry - the sound of angst-ridden locals cursing as their internet drops out.