Archive for November, 2010


Friday, November 26th, 2010

Brave new world of broadband?

The seeds of the new internet are being sown right here in Australia, but it’s all dependent on an NBN.

After five days of parliamentary debate, draft laws that separate Telstra’s retail and wholesale arms have finally passed the Senate.

The bill, which allows the telco giant to take part in the federal government’s $36 billion national broadband network (NBN), must now go back to the lower house, where it is expected to be approved next week in its newly amended form.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described the NBN as the holy grail of micro-economic reform.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Photo: Nic Walker

Senator Conroy said an immediate benefit of the passage of the legislation was likely to be a reduction in access disputes.

He said the NBN was rolling out 6000 kilometres of cable across regional Australia, opening access to 400,000 Australians and allowing real retail competition in more than 100 towns and cities.

“These new changes will absolutely end the gaming that has gone on – 152 access disputes in this sector alone,” he said.

Senator Conroy said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) could now act immediately to end rip-offs.

“You will see an almost immediate change in behaviour by companies as they realise they can’t use the legal system, the competition system, to behave in the way we have seen in the past,” he said.


Spontaneous applause led by Labor staffers broke out when the legislation was passed by 30 votes to 28 today.

The Coalition made a number of last-ditch attempts at delaying the vote but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Following the vote, Senator Conroy said reform of the telecommunications sector was overdue.

“This legislation is the holy grail of micro-economic reform in this sector,” he told reporters.

“For Australian consumers, this reform has been a long time coming.”

The government secured the bill’s passage with the support of all seven crossbench senators: five Australian Greens, Family First’s Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon.

Senator Fielding declared the draft laws’ imminent passage through Parliament a historic moment.

“History will show that the Liberal and National parties were on the wrong side of the debate,” he said.

However, Liberal senator Simon Birmingham criticised the government and crossbench for not scrutinising the NBN more.

“It is a … phenomenally huge amount of the money the government is committing to the NBN,” he said.

“And it is committing it with no knowledge whatsoever as to whether it is the best way to deliver fast, affordable broadband services to all Australians, at the lowest cost to taxpayers in a manner that promotes competition in the Australian telecommunications sector.”

To get the bill passed before Parliament rose for the long summer break, the Senate was forced to sit into the night yesterday, and return again this morning to deal with more than 100 proposed amendments to it.

No opposition amendments were supported, but a number of changes proposed by the Greens and Senator Xenophon, regarding increased transparency, were accepted.

They must now be formally approved by the lower house on Monday before the Telecommunication Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 can become law.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

People will soon be able to tell if they have an STD by urinating on a small computer chip and inserting it into a mobile phone or computer, doctors and scientists in Britain claim.

But Australia’s foremost sexual health expert is sceptical about the idea, saying it may be a long time before such a product is consumer-ready.

The small devices, similar to pregnancy testing kits, will reportedly be able to give people a home diagnosis within minutes. Millions of pounds have been poured into the project to combat an STD epidemic in Britain, where infections reached a record 482,696 last year.

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“Your mobile phone can be your mobile doctor. It diagnoses whether you’ve got one of a range of STIs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea and tells you where to go next to get treatment,” Dr Tariq Sadiq, the sexual health expert from the University of London who is leading the project, told The Guardian.

Sadiq said young people especially were embarrassed to see their doctor about STDs, which was making the situation worse.

Mobile phones are increasingly being used for health purposes, such as the remote monitoring of elderly people.

The Guardian reported that the developers of the rapid testing devices – which include experts in microbiology and phone operators like O2 – expected them to be sold for a pound each in vending machines in nightclubs, pharmacies and supermarkets.

The research has been given the thumbs up by Professor Noel Gill, the head of HIV and STIs at the British government’s Health Protection Agency, who said he hoped the application of new technology would reduce infections among young people. The HPA would coordinate large-scale evaluations of the technology within a network of collaborating STI clinics.

But Professor Basil Donovan, head of the sexual health program at the University of New South Wales’ National Centre in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research, said he maintained a “healthy scepticism” about the project.

“If they say that’s what they’re aspiring to that would be terrific, but unfortunately there’s no such test yet – at this stage it’s just fantasy,” Professor Donovan said in a phone interview.

“There was a paper published just a couple of weeks ago where they looked at all of the commercially available home testing kits for chlamydia and they were just a joke – if someone had chlamydia there was only a 10 per cent chance that the test would show it up.”

But Professor Donovan said he believed it was a “great idea”, concurring with Dr Sadiq that a big problem with current STD testing was that “it’s too embarrassing and too expensive to test everyone all the time”.

“I think in our lifetime it will happen and at the moment there are rapid home tests available for some conditions like HIV that are actually quite good,” he said.

Professor Adrian Mindel, sexual health medicine expert at the University of Sydney and the director of the sexually transmitted infections research centre at Westmead Hospital, said the STD problem could not be solved with technology alone.

“I don’t think the issue is the rapid test, it’s getting people to do the test that is the issue and that to me is the fundamental barrier rather than the technology,” he said.

“People have to identify themselves as being at risk and that is the difficulty at the moment.”

Professor Mindel said it was critical to educate young people about STDs, including that the majority of the infections don’t have symptoms and the infection may be transmitted even when symptoms aren’t present.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha