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STANDING COMMITTEE ON INFRASTRUCTURE AND COMMUNICATIONS
11/03/2011
Role and potential of the National Broadband Network

CHAIR —I welcome a representative of the Digital Futures Advisory Council to this hearing.

Prof. Nixon —I am here in an independent capacity. I chair the Digital Futures Advisory Council, which is not aligned to any political organisation and is simply an advisory group to the Tasmanian government on aspects of developing the potential of the NBN.

CHAIR —The committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, but I should advise you that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We do not have a written submission from you to the inquiry. I invite you to make some opening remarks and then we will have a question and answer session.

Prof. Nixon —I will give a little more context and background. My specific expertise is that I am a computer scientist by training. I am a research computer scientist focused primarily in the area of distributed systems, so effectively the application layers and above of network systems. I have also previously been involved with and led the research on Intel’s digital health initiative which was a university based environment in Ireland with 100 staff and 600 patients looking at the role of technologies in supporting aged care. I have a broad background in the European Commission, the National Science Foundation in the US and I chaired the public consultation in Ireland on next generation broadband. I sort of have a broad technical context from which to talk, but I reiterate that I am here in an independent capacity.

I accepted your invitation primarily because I believe the opportunity that the NBN offers is quite unique. Let us put this in an international context. I am sure you will all be aware of the European Commission’s statement that they want by 2020 to have 100 per cent of their population at 30 megabits per second to the door and 50 per cent at 100 megabits. That is 500 million people. In China at the moment there are on average 25 million per annum new subscriptions to broadband. The American government has made comparable promises—perhaps not geographically in the same way but certainly in terms of the numbers of people—to provide one gigabit per second to the door. We are certainly sitting in a global context that says broadband is very important essential infrastructure both to support the development of a nation and in the global competitive context.

I have a particularly strong feeling about the opportunity this provides. Even simple statistics show that iTunes downloads recently passed 10 billion and I think there were six billion Amazon sales of online books but $500 million of that in the last year was in e-books, the electronic provision of material. The overall tendency and trajectory now is towards the delivery of electronic media. If you put that in the context of the demographics, while I might have been an early adopter of the internet—and we were not necessarily born with it—our current young people moving through will be brought up with the internet. It indicates that there will be considerable growth in all these areas of online interaction, whatever they are. I think there is a huge opportunity in this conversation, if that infrastructure is in place, to talk about what we need to do to exploit it. I guess that is where my starting point is.

CHAIR —Fantastic, and your starting point is exactly in our terms of reference. You would probably appreciate that there have been a number of inquiries and there are currently other inquiries in other parts of the parliament looking at particular construction legislation and regulation. Our particular interest is the utilisation and adaption for purpose. I note your comment about your experience in the health sector. I would be particularly interested in you giving us a bit of a picture of the Irish project: what sort of broadband was needed to support it and so forth.

Prof. Nixon —That was a collaborative investment between the Irish government and Intel, who put $30 million into establishing a research centre to look at the role of technologies in the home, particularly to support people remaining in the home and having a higher quality of life for as long as possible. Demographics from the UN in respect of aging populations suggest that by 2050 over two billion people of the world’s population will be over 60. That gives you the context of a very significantly aging population. Allowing people to remain in their home and providing them with service and care in the home not only is cost efficient but also provides a better quality of life for the individual. All the studies point to the individual feeling happier and more relaxed and confident about their life.

It was in that context that we looked at a whole range of technologies to deploy into the home. We looked at everything from high bandwidth video to the simplest of sensors, the home security sensors, and using those sensors to spot very early signs of deterioration, whether that be a propensity for falling, perhaps some early indications of neurodegenerative diseases such as early onset of Alzheimer’s et cetera or social isolation. One of the major characteristics is, if you remain in your home and you stop connecting with your community, there is a rapid deterioration of your health almost independent of your initial health condition.

We looked at those three areas. We took on board a cohort of 600 patients from around the country, from very rural contexts to city based contexts, and looked at how we might use technology to support them. We engaged not only technologists—of the 110 people in the centre working on this only 25 were technologists—but also social policy staff, ethnographers, clinicians, primary care providers, doctors et cetera. It was very interesting. I could tell many stories of how it significantly changed quite a number of people’s lives. What it primarily pointed to was the need for a telecommunication connection between the home and the care infrastructure of the health service. I will stop there and let you quiz me a bit more.

CHAIR —One of the issues for us is around our final criterion, the technology required. You mentioned the video based stuff. Obviously, broadband and then fast broadband are relevant to many of the things you are talking about, but what investigation did you make of having fibre to the home?

Prof. Nixon —We did not investigate the fibre-to-the-home component of it. But part of that was a pragmatic statement in that we did not have it to the home in certain places and what we wanted was a coherent cohort that we could apply the same technologies to, both in the rural context and the city context, and look at the impact. However, we certainly have started a number of conversations about the next stages of this research, and in particular groups associated with macular degeneration would be a key one. That is actually a very significant component of ageing. Being able to do distance eye tests over high-bandwidth broadband was one of the opportunity areas, and this would stop people having to travel to effectively one major place, which was Dublin—and they could spend six hours travelling there for a five-minute test and then six hours back et cetera. So there are those opportunities and the costs associated with that—because the health service was effectively paying for the travel costs and all of the associated medical costs.

CHAIR —Can you point us to the findings of that work? Can you give us the information about—

Prof. Nixon —The centre is still up and running, so—

CHAIR —Perhaps if you pop through to the secretariat the link to that, that would be very useful.

Prof. Nixon —Yes, I will be able to do that.

CHAIR —The other point that your projects look at, as far as I understand, is the issue about there being a baseline of economic and social indicators from which to do an assessment. Do you want to talk to us about what your experience and views on that issue are and where we might need to look? As I understand it, there is the Human Interface Technology Laboratory.

Prof. Nixon —Within the university?

CHAIR —Yes. One of the things they are looking at is a baseline of economic indicators. Are you able to address that?

Prof. Nixon —I do not think I am particularly able to address that.

CHAIR —That is all right. We might follow that up separately. I go to the deputy chair.

Mr NEVILLE —Just to put it in context, what proportion of Ireland would be fibre, copper, wireless, satellite?

Prof. Nixon —I do not have those numbers off the top of my head; however, the fibre is primarily a metropolitan area characteristic. At the time that this was undertaken, even 3G broadband coverage was not universal.

Mr NEVILLE —What about in the country—were they using copper or wireless?

Prof. Nixon —ADSL over copper or 3G, if it was available, on mobile phones in the rural context it was very patchy. We had a number of sites where they had done specific things such as an NS, where they had rolled out a particularly high-density communications infrastructure in a small rural context, but they had not done that universally.

Mr NEVILLE —When you connected the internet to a home, where there were not any younger people and where perhaps the older couple or the older single person had never had any contact with the computer, how did you simplify it so they could use it? You just used the example of looking at macular degeneration. To do that you need to have a slit lamp. Did the district nurse or someone take a slit lamp around with her? What was the method of putting it from the patient into the e-network to the doctor? In theory it sounds great but the practicality of an old person of 83 lining themselves up for an eye test is not that easy.

Prof. Nixon —There are a number of things in that.

Mr NEVILLE —You certainly would not get it on VoIP quality.

Prof. Nixon —No. Current instantiations of broadband, particularly in the rural context, would not support this. So I am with you on that one. In particular, can I clarify one thing: the macular degeneration work was something they were moving on to when I left as director and moved on to my next position. So I cannot comment specifically on that.

Mr NEVILLE —I could imagine that if you had a portable slit lamp that was connected to high-resolution return to base then you could do it, but you would need someone not totally expert but a district nurse or someone who knew what they were doing.

—I think there were two parts to your question, so I will answer the second bit first. Certainly if you are going to engage in these remote medical tests and health monitoring et cetera, you do need qualified primary care providers there travelling around. You can do some of those things through education but some of them do require some local specialist knowledge. However, the cost of delivering that in terms of going around and doing that on a regular basis, particularly in terms of quality of life as well as the pressure on particular central facilities, is quite significant. I can find some documents if you want on the relative costing of bringing people in versus doing this remotely, as in Ireland. I think that would probably be useful for you. The more significant question you asked initially, which was, ‘How do you provide the right training or how do you make the technology accessible?’ is a very interesting question. We spent quite a significant amount of time.

Mr NEVILLE —Do many older people pick up on it?

Prof. Nixon —Absolutely. We effectively reinvented the conference call. I say that with a sort of wry smile in that. Concerning social isolation, we were saying that maybe they could use a multi-person Skype facility so they could all talk together so that, even if they were having a little bit of a problem with one of their legs, they could still chat to their friends. Of course, that is a completely unrealistic thing to introduce because there are too many experiential and technological hurdles to get over to be able to use it meaningfully.

One of the things we did was to invent and produce something very similar to an iPad that had a very simple interface. It just allowed them to pick their friends who appeared as a simple icon. We did a whole pile of studies that simply showed that all they wanted to be able to do was have a conference call, so that they could speak to their friends, and have a simple indication—not a moving picture; not a video—that said who was speaking at a given point in time. But that corresponds to a particular demographic and a particular age group. As you move through the different age groups the expectations of the technology and the abilities to use that technology change. So I think that is an instance in time response. My children talk to their grandparents in Ireland literally on a weekly basis and they get frustrated when a phone call does not have a video now associated with it. If they speak to me down the road they ask why aren’t I—as they say—on a mobile which has a video?

Mr NEVILLE —I spend a lot of time with nursing homes and things. One of the things that people who have paramedics and medics coming around to see them in their homes always talk to me about is the difficulty of getting people who have dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s to take their tablets at the right time, and monitoring whether they have taken them. Has a thing been devised, a tablet dispenser or something, that is linked to the computer? Has anything like that been invented?

Prof. Nixon —There is a whole range of those technologies out there. There are even products out there that do this. Many of those simply spot whether you have taken the tablet out of the cupboard and not whether you have actually taken it. So there are always technological solutions to those particular things. There is still a human-technology interface that you have to work with and that is always the single most challenging part. As a technologist myself I can devise anything you want, but whether it works for you as an individual is the key question.

Mr NEVILLE —Did it get to the sort of resonance that if Molly O’Rourke had not taken her tablets this morning then the computer at base could monitor the fact that she had not?

Prof. Nixon —You can absolutely do that now.

Mrs PRENTICE —You mentioned a figure of $30 million before. Was that how much the government put in?

Prof. Nixon —That was how much Intel put in. Clearly, Intel did this because they were interested in new markets for silicon and I do not think they ever hid that. However, the health market was one in which they saw a huge opportunity to do both socially good things and make money. They partnered with GE Health and there is now a major push in that area of technology, enhanced through communication, for the delivery of health.

Mrs PRENTICE —Do they control who else provides services, or not?

Prof. Nixon —This was a research endeavour. We did have patients and they were generating products out there. The results are public and available.

Mrs PRENTICE —Looking forward, do you see rolling it out as a partnership with private enterprise.

Prof. Nixon —That is an interesting question and it probably depends upon the particular context. In the Irish context they have a very big health service but it is challenged financially. So I suspect there is a balancing act between state provision and private provision to provide the right particular mix. I am not sure what the line to draw there is and that probably applies everywhere.

Mrs PRENTICE —As part of the project, did you identify what existing fibre there was?

Prof. Nixon —We made a fundamental assumption, because of the current state of the broadband rollout in Ireland, that there would be technology to support this and we envisaged what we could be doing two or five years down the line. In the same situation that the universities are in here, the universities in Ireland have their own network which is a high-bandwidth, broadband symmetric, high-frequency network. So we were able to test and evaluate things in that context so that if and when there was an appropriate rollout, we would be able to use it.

Mrs PRENTICE —And then there are other people who would connect and use that—your duplicated systems?

Prof. Nixon —Yes.

Mr FLETCHER —Professor Nixon, has the university been involved, or has the Tasmanian government to your knowledge been involved, in any cost-benefit studies of the upgrade of the broadband infrastructure in Tasmania?

Prof. Nixon —Not to my knowledge. I have only been here just on six months, so there could be many things going on that I have not quite got my head around. I do think that that is a really appropriate thing to do, but in two phases: to have a look at what you might suppose the cost-benefit analysis would be, but also to do an evaluation as it is rolled out. One of the challenges with understanding the impact of, say, a high-quality broadband infrastructure is that to do something with it you need the services in place and then you can begin to understand the economic impact. So there is a chain of events to happen before you can see value out of something like that. I think that the challenge in something like this is when you eventually have the fibre rolled out to everybody’s door and you have the right models in place for people to pay for or access that service, then you need the technology, the applications, the government services and the commercial services that utilise that in order to see the value out of it.

Mr FLETCHER —Are you putting to us any particular view about alternative speeds or alternative network configurations, or are you arguing that as the infrastructure improves in general, there are more interesting things you can do with it?

Prof. Nixon —I am not quite sure I understand the question.

Mr FLETCHER —I am trying to understand the basis of what you are putting to us. Are you putting to us a specific argument about where infrastructure needs to be upgraded to—for example, that it needs to be fibre or that it needs to be of a certain speed—or are you putting to us that as infrastructure improves the applications that can be delivered over it improve?

Prof. Nixon —Primarily it is the latter—that the provision of a high-quality, high-bandwidth infrastructure will drive a whole range of things. There are huge opportunities in the delivery of health services, educational services, government services and commercial services, both nationally and in a global context, to be derived. The OECD had some interesting numbers about how as the penetration of broadband increases there is a flowthrough to improved GDP. So there is clear evidence on that sort of stuff. That would be the primary place that I would be arguing.

However, I do have opinions that where possible you put in the most future-proof technology you can. That is not always completely feasible. It would be very difficult, for example, to roll a fibre line out into the middle of nowhere in a relatively cost-effective way. But current wisdom would suggest that fibre is the most future-proof of the technologies available to give us the highest bandwidth to a particular point. There are places where wireless is an important component of a broadband rollout, maybe for reasons of access because you cannot roll fibre out, or maybe for additional ubiquity because the mobile access to the internet is almost now as important as fixed access. So I do have views on that, but the exact configuration I would say is a bit beyond me and this conversation as well.

Mr FLETCHER —In terms of the policy approaches in Europe, can you identify nations which are spending as much on a per capita basis as Australia is spending on NBN, or nations where the public policy approach to broadband involves renationalising part of the telecommunications sector?

Prof. Nixon —It is outside my areas of knowledge and experience so I am not sure that I can comment particularly directly on those key questions. I am aware, because of the public consultation I did in Ireland on that, that we brought in a number of European neighbours to talk about their experiences. Certainly in the Netherlands they have done a comprehensive rollout of fibre at least to local exchange boxes and where possible to the door, and that was a national rollout with the national telecom provider. There are alternative models depending on the sociopolitical context of each of the European countries on how they are achieving it. But as for the specifics of the question, I am not sure that I can comment.

Mr FLETCHER —Back to the example you gave about broadband supporting telemedicine and particularly macular degeneration—

Prof. Nixon —That was an example.

Mr FLETCHER —Sure. I would like to understand your thoughts about what applications for telemedicine will be delivered to the home and what applications will be delivered, for example, to clinics in a range of rural towns.

Prof. Nixon —Interestingly, I think those questions are not necessarily technological questions because, again, as a research computer scientist who has worked without boundary of industry in academia, we could probably deliver pretty much any technology to the home. But the limiting factor is actually the availability of trained staff and knowing the right economic model for delivering that. For some things it makes a huge amount of sense to deliver to the home and for some things the local community location is exactly the right place to do it. I was involved in initial discussions before I moved on to my next position—and again I mention the macular degeneration one as an example—and one of the opportunities they saw was rather than doing that, was doing it in the local chemist. They would have somebody in the local pharmacy who would be the trained slit camera person and as part of their weekly time at the chemist to pick up whatever they were going to pick up, they would be able to utilise that in a five-minute slot and go home.

Mr FLETCHER —What is the public policy case for connecting fibre to every home as opposed to an alternative model of, for example, fibre to every school, hospital, clinic, pharmacy et cetera, and then lower speed connections to homes? To help illuminate that question, I am interested in any applications you can think of that need in-the-home speeds that you can only achieve on fibre.

CHAIR —We are interested in any examples you might have there.

Prof. Nixon —The symmetric thing is a very interesting component to that, because certainly within a highly academic university context for years and years I have used symmetrics and then when you go home you get that interesting challenge that some of the things you expect to work very straightforwardly, like videoconferencing, are only beginning to emerge now. Much of the technology innovation is about balancing out the challenges of an asymmetric connection.

To return to the specific question about what applications would drive you at this moment to have the potential for a gigabit, I think that is possibly the wrong way round to ask the question. The fibre to the door is a future-proof technology that allows you at this point to deliver a certain bandwidth and, hopefully over time with technology innovations, deliver a faster bandwidth. Certain applications—very specialist ones I can imagine—can utilise almost every ounce of that bandwidth now. Whether the service operations you could provide are more mundane is a very interesting question and that actually flows through.

If you look in the European context, many of the areas of research the European Commission is investing in are about how you could best use the technology to provide new services or how you can improve existing services based on that technology. As an example in the education context, I just heard on Monday in one of the presentations that the University of Phoenix has close to 500,000 people as part of its online education portfolio, all primarily doing degrees of some level or another. They do a high proportion of that through video engagements and multiparty collaborations. All of that innovative education requires a quality broadband connection.

In the Tasmanian context there is a single university and we need to have a broader reach to a whole range of socioeconomic groups and we need to engage much more people in the educational process. To do that, some of it we will be able to do on campus, some of it we will be able to do at regional outreach centres, but some of it we need to be able to do in the home, primarily to be able to support the working life of individuals and to fit into their lifestyle. Many of them have to work to provide for families et cetera and you need to find the slots. I think the opportunities provided by broadband to do that in a coherent way are phenomenal. I think I can probably layer a few others on top of that, but I will leave it at that.

Mr SYMON —Professor, I would like to pick up on a part of that discussion and the need for future-proofing. I think Australia still does not quite get it. I say that because of our physical infrastructure. I come from Melbourne and our roads are clogged, our trains are full and our education facilities can be overloaded. In many cases I think it is because what is there now was planned for a previous time when the demand was not there and no-one looked forward to what the demand might be. I would like to ask you if we are at that point with our digital communications without the NBN and the fibre connections.

Prof. Nixon —To distil the question, it is effectively whether the current infrastructure, if we left it in place and did not do anything, would be sufficient.

Mr SYMON  —With technological advancements that would allow more to be done with what is there.

Prof. Nixon —If you take the premise that you do not do anything and you just leave the environment as it is, all of the indicators are that online activity, commercial or otherwise, is going up exponentially. We all have the statistics, such as five hundred million Facebook users going up every day. I think the number of 3G mobile phones has passed the three billion mark at this point. There is just a phenomenal level of online engagement and there is statistic after statistic to support that perspective.

One of the other unquestionable things that you could observe is that with whatever technology—whether it is roads or broadband or whatever—you put in place one thing and it is consumed immediately. It has people innovate on the back of it to say, ‘We could use it for this or this’—all things you never imagined you would use it for previously. The internet is the extreme example of that. Even just looking at my own personal access to data and how much I use it, I have gone over an 18 month period from being an incidental user of Skype to being a daily, multi-time user of Skype for communications. I have gone from being an individual who bought the newspaper and walked down to the shop to buy DVDs, to being a person that does all of that online.

Even with those simple commercial and life engagements, when you multiply those to the whole of the population and then say, ‘Well, what infrastructure do you need to support that?’ and then you look at keeping pace with the economic and commercial growth in the rest of the world, if you do not make some change you will go down. I think the OECD said that we were ranked 14th for network readiness in around 2009. If you look at all those other statistics of how much China, Korea and Europe are investing in this, that ranking is going to drop down and then you are in a very interesting economic development context.

Mr SYMON —Leading on from that, you spoke before about the difference between your connectivity at university versus what you have at home. Could I ask what type of service you get delivered to your home at the moment?

Prof. Nixon —I have a standard ADSL offering. I will not mention the provider because I do not think that is appropriate. I work sometimes at home during the day and I get probably around 10 megabits per second. I have done a few tests occasionally and it is around that, but certainly around peak times during the weekend it drops off to close to modem speed, so down below 256 kilobytes per second.

Mr SYMON —As more people log on an use the network?

Prof. Nixon —That is the contention rate problem. There is effectively what they call a multiplexing. With the current technologies you have a local exchange and it has a wire to everybody’s house and you have to try to provide for—let’s say—10 houses that sharing one connection or 50 or 1,000 houses sharing one connection. Whatever number it is, you have to share the connections out, and depending on how many people are active at a given time you effectively get a smaller share of the wire. So the difference between fibre to the home and to the door is that you provide an opportunity to increase the amount of bandwidth an individual gets and you provide some sort of evenness over time so that you do not end up with these peaks and troughs of communication.

Mr SYMON —Would it be fair to extrapolate that to fibre to the node? If fibre was only run to the node rather than to the premise, would that problem then arise in the future as usage rates increase?

Prof. Nixon —You always have this last mile problem. Let’s say you take fibre to two offices from here, but then between the offices and here you put in a very thin line. It does not matter how fast it arrives at the office two doors away, it still has to go through the slower length to get to you. So if you are still providing from the hub to the houses you still have to multiplex over limited copper wires and you will still have exactly the same potential problem—irrespective of how fast it arrives at the hub.

Mr SYMON —I will turn now to wireless delivery. Obviously it works in some areas but what I have seen so far would seem to indicate that it is never going to have the capacity to replace fixed line fibre. Have you heard of any systems that can cover that bandwidth and actually deliver in that space that might be able to do that?

Prof. Nixon —Are there wireless technologies that are as fast as fibre—is that the simple question you are asking?

Mr SYMON —Not just as fast but also have capacity.

Prof. Nixon —There are fundamental physics limitations that mean that that is not viable. Communication through the air and communication through light are just different approaches to things and they have certain limitations. So no, there is not likely to be at this stage such a wireless communication. As wireless gets faster, the technologies that provide down the fibre will also get faster, so there will always be a discontinuity between the speeds available over fibre and the speeds available over wireless.

CHAIR —I am going to come back to the direct reference. I am interested in the area you talked about where you had the social workers and people like that in the project that was done is Ireland. We had the rural health service people give evidence to us where they indicated that one of the big areas is mental health, particularly for younger people. They are significantly more likely to engage with health services online than go to traditional health services. I am interested in some of the stuff you were saying about not just looking at the aged demographic today, but the aging demographic and how their expectations will be different.

I am just wondering if there was any insight you got from the work around that issue. By the same token, were there barriers, with people not wanting to go via technology? The potential to monitor people in their homes sounds wonderful, but another part of me feels that I would be being spied on at home. Who would know all of this information about my movements? I am just interested to know what is thought of inside of the work of that you were doing there.

Prof. Nixon —I think there are multiple questions embedded in that.

CHAIR —Yes, take what you will.

Prof. Nixon —I will address the privacy one which you clearly articulated. In every aspect of our engagement with the state, whether it is in written correspondence or other communication, there is an obligation and a requirement for privacy. The trust that people have in that engagement really relies on the reputation of certain organisations. Technology does not introduce any new problems insofar as those have always been there and always will be; it introduces new ways for people to subvert that, but equally there are always new ways of addressing that. So I think privacy is a standard problem and we have to think about it and take account of it.

The specific privacy things about the technology in our deployment were quite intriguing. At the end of the day we threw all the monitoring cameras in the bin because people just did not like being watched, and I fully sympathise with that. But we used different sensors and, intriguingly, the acceptance of those changed as we added value and as the conditions changed. We did longitudinal studies and found that when they were initially exceptionally healthy they were less inclined to them but as they started to observe certain characteristics about their physical wellbeing, they started to feel much more comfortable about that engagement. I think that would probably be reflected in how we engage with doctors and nurses. Clearly they trusted the university and they trusted the doctors. Hopefully those things will continue. You need to make sure that the providers have that trust.

CHAIR —But you had a definite indication that people were not at the point of being particularly comfortable with video monitoring?

Prof. Nixon —I would differentiate video monitoring from video communication. With video monitoring they have no control—it is on all the time and it watches them. Whereas they were quite comfortable with video communication because they could switch it on and off—they knew where the button was—and that allowed them to engage. So there is a clear distinction there.

CHAIR —Did you do anything around young people and their engagement with your services?

Prof. Nixon —The centre was deliberately called the Technology Research for Independent Living Centre, not ‘aged living’.

CHAIR —But were you looking at younger people with disabilities?

Prof. Nixon —That was going to be the next stage where we were going to go with it. As you have articulated, there have been a number of studies about how young people engage with particular services. At some level it may sound surprising that young people are more likely to engage online if they are feeling depressed or whatever than they are in person; however, I do not know if you have all had the experience of not wanting to make a phone call because you are late for something so you just text them rather than speak to them because there is that distancing. I do not think it is a surprising observation; it is just that these young individuals are much more used to instant messaging, chat and all those sorts of things. It is a medium with which they feel comfortable.

Mr NEVILLE —I have a technical question. Have you been out to Scottsdale or one of the pilot areas to have a look?

Prof. Nixon —I have been here six months, but the answer is no. I apologise for that.

Mr NEVILLE —I would be interested to hear your comment on the installation and how it compares. Should you between now and the end of our inquiry get out there, would you be good enough to give us your opinion?

Prof. Nixon —It depends on what you mean by ‘opinion’.

CHAIR —Within the terms of reference of the inquiry.

Mr NEVILLE —You have a unique knowledge of the European experience. I would be interested to hear your comments. We are going for an all-out fibre solution. I would be interested to hear how we are measuring up on the technical installation side.

Prof. Nixon —I will take advice through the chair on whether that—

CHAIR —Paul, I actually think that it is way outside the terms of reference of the inquiry. If you were interested in the application of the technology and whether it is amenable to being applied to health, education and so forth, I think that would be okay.

Mr NEVILLE —From your experience in Europe—and I recognise we have different weather conditions—what is the life of fibre strung pole to pole compared with grounding it all?

Prof. Nixon —I have no data on that whatsoever. I could probably dig some out, but I do not have any off the top of my head.

CHAIR —That is fine. Thanks very much for that. We have ranged broadly. I am trying to keep us on the criteria of the inquiry. The fact that you had the expertise was of interest generally to committee members.

The committee thanks you for your attendance today. If you have been asked to provide any additional information—even just the links to research—could you forward them to the secretary? You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Thank you very much.

Prof. Nixon —Thank you for the time. I am more than delighted to contribute further.

CHAIR —Yes, that would be great.

[9.51 am]