Tuesday 8 September 2009
A lot of people have the idea that a successful "knowledge economy" requires much cheaper and faster broadband than what we have available in NZ today. I strongly disagree. If that was so, then Japan, South Korea and China would be dominating the United States in software development and Internet services, but they are not, or at least their strength is in volume, not innovation.
This Herald blogger suggests that if only we had faster, cheaper broadband, users would be figuring out amazing things to do with it. I don't understand this argument at all. Users can't do anything with broadband except use services provided by software developers. NZ's network is adequate enough to build and deploy any service developers can think of, and if you want to reach a mass market you can trivially host your services in the USA or elsewhere. (Chris Double in our office runs TinyVid, hosted in the USA, as a hobby, for goodness sake.)
Major research universities in the USA often presented similar arguments to large funding agencies: give us a lot of money to build amazing infrastructure (networks, computers, etc) and cool new ideas will be spontaneously generated. I don't think that was ever really true; the great ideas seem to come from getting smart people together and giving them freedom to work on their interests with adequate supporting infrastructure to experiment on; I can't think of any examples of great ideas that were inspired by a superabundance of infrastructure. Sure, if you had a megabit network and no-one else did, or Unix workstations when everyone else had DOS PCs, you had an edge, but by the mid-90s when I entered grad school at CMU commodity PCs and networks were powerful enough to support cutting-edge research in most areas of computer science. That didn't stop the universities asking for infrastructure money though!
Perhaps I could argue that making it easier to consume software and services is actually a long-term drag on the "knowledge economy". I got into programming because my first computer had almost no software on it and no way to get any more --- so all I could do with it was write my own. How many bright kids are hooked on Facebook, Youtube and game consoles when they could be coding their own dreams into reality?
Based on my experiences I certainly have gripes about problems dragging on NZ's "knowledge economy", but broadband isn't one of them.