Friday, 31 October 2014

Monstralia – An Australian Way to Halloween?

by Josie Anna Stockdill

Image by Kirill Nadtochiy

In recent years 45% of those Australians that didn’t celebrate Halloween didn’t partake because they view it as an American tradition. Principally, I wonder why we are so ruthlessly anti-American on this? It seems a long lost battle considering that the Americanisation of Australia really kicked off in the 1920s.

Not to mention that Halloween is actually a Celtic tradition, which can also be linked as far back as the ancient Roman feast of Pomona or festival of Parentalia. On this base level alone we can safely claim it as a part of our founding historical cultures.

Moreover, we don’t need to deny that Halloween exists whilst the retail stores fill with pumpkins around us. There is no need to peer out the blinds enraged as garish costumed children loiter on the doorstep this 31 October.

If I had Halloween growing up, it may have taught me more about my culture and my history. I might have had a parade of fabulous Australian monsters and monstrous characters marching through my imagination, each one forming a grotesque costume and new scaring potential.

Yet trying to imagine what I could have been, I face another problem. Where are all the Australian monsters and monstrous characters? Why does nothing immediately spring to mind? Vampires? No. Zombies? Nope. Witch? Not really. Is R.L. Stine ours? Regrettably not.

There is an array of fantastic Aboriginal monsters. Unfortunately, a problem here is that despite sharing geography with these monsters, I do not share the same cultural consciousness.
That means that these monsters and monstrous characters, despite being awe-inspiring and scary, don’t do everything that they need to do for me culturally. I need more monsters.
Why is this important? What do monsters and the monstrous do anyway? As Professor Asa Simon Mittman explains in his coedited Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (2012)
Monsters do a great deal of cultural work, but they do not do it nicely. They not only challenge and question; they trouble, they worry, they haunt. They break and tear and rend cultures, all while constructing them and propping them up. They swallow up our cultural mores and expectations, and then, becoming what they eat, they reflect back to us our own faces, made disgusting or, perhaps, revealed to always have been so.
What culture in particular do monsters need to break, tear and rend? White Australia. To shreds.
We can use monsters and the monstrous this Halloween to critique the cultural logic of Australian collective identity – which is particularly friable. Excluding Aboriginal culture, when you think about it, Australian identity was constructed with no more than a grouping of fragmented people via a hasty collision with an alien place.
Additionally, in the case of the White Australian norm, we then went on to position our fundamental identity on a stratagem of power rather than an authentic distinctiveness. Why should we prod this fragile idea of the White Australian norm with monsters now? Professor Richard Dyer suggests mostly because:
White people need to learn to see themselves as white, to see their particularity. In other words, whiteness needs to be made strange. (White, 1997)
For some timely assistance on Halloween, we can all use monsters and the monstrous as theoretical constructs to better understand our identity, including (but not limited to) the strangeness in our whiteness and the complex relationship we have with our landscape.
By employing monsters and monstrous things in this way, we can creatively navigate an emotive journey through the good, bad, funny, scary and confusing characteristics of our country.
I propose that we create a Halloween tradition here that brings to life the monsters and monstrous characters of our past, present and future. There undoubtedly need to be monsters and characters from other cultures included in this tradition, as they make up our country too. Yet personally, I would most especially love to see some little Ngayurnangalku prowling our suburbs, and perhaps even a Babadook or two.

Halloween is not another negative result of the globalised world. It is an opportunity for Australians to do something culturally invigorating. It is an occasion for us to boast the truly exceptional plethora of Aboriginal monsters we have, while using our other monsters to explore how the people that went to (or were sent to) Australia forever transformed their identity.
What better way to do this than literally becoming the monstrous and exploring our landscape together on Halloween? We can violate reality and creatively consider what skulks behind contemporary Australia and our systems of categorisation. Best of all, you don’t need to be an artist or academic to fully partake in this national experiential investigation.
Spend some time thinking about how you are going to feed your Australian monster pangs this Halloween. Nurture them. Grow them. Test out your best ugly faces. We can start to claim our strangeness and find out what monstrous beings live here too – we might even discover a little more about ourselves in the process.

Your monsters can be an amalgam of the historical, the creative from books, TV, art and films, the personally imagined and feared, cryptozoology, or even the familiar made extraordinary.

You still need some Halloween ideas to get you going?

·     Parade about as one of those upcoming Territorial fellows
·     In a loving relationship? Dress as a steamboat and a Muldjewangk!
·     Perhaps you are brave enough have a Fishman pool party
·     Your kids could be just about anything from a Paul Jennings story 
·     In a last minute fix? Become a ghostly Boggo Road Gaol inmate
·     Feeling retro? What about Bottersnikes and Gumbles or Melbourne’s Deadly Earnest
·     For a new twist on the classic be inspired by artist Kirill Nadtochiy’s interpretation of a bunyip
·     If you have more highbrow tastes you could revive the southern sea monsters mapped by cartographers Abraham Ortelius or Gerard and Cornelis de Jode  (paper mache never hurt anyone!)
·     An Australian of leisure? Crack a beer and watch a few episodes of the Extraordinary for more strange motivations.

If you want to throw an Australian monster mash or prowl the streets this 31 October please hashtag your terrifying photos as #monstralian

Feel free to share any Australian monster knowledge, original monster notions, monstrous characters or Halloween ideas in the comments below.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Jean Paul Gaultier and the true history of the fashion stripe

By Sean Ryan, RMIT University

What is the history of stripes in fashion? Image via iStock

The publicity material for The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition, which opened last week at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), unsurprisingly came decked in stripes.

The blue and white bars of the Breton jersey, worn by French sailors since the mid-19th century and made fashionable by Coco Chanel at the end of the first world war, have dressed promotional films, merchandise, catalogues, and the figures of those invited to the opening.

So, what is the history of the stripe in fashion?

The marinière is inseparably associated with Parisian Gaultier, who has repeatedly included it in his fashion collections over a 40-year career. At the same time, together with the beret and neckerchief, the sailor stripe goes shorthand for a style that is stereotypically, parodically French.

The horizontal bands remain the most vivid and playful example of a surface decoration more notable for its banality and ubiquity.

The stripe is seen everywhere from the pinstriped business suit, with its accompanying shirt and tie, to the pastel stripes of our pyjamas and bed linen, to the emblematic blazery of the school uniform and football strip.

We are seemingly at home with the contemporary stripe and its implications of rectitude, comfort, identity and energy.

The stripe as mark of the social outsider

It has not always been so. If the wearing of stripes seems a trivial matter, subject to the whims of fashion and the conventions of work and leisure, there was a time when to be striped was indeed to be barred, to be marked as socially marginalised or excluded.

Medieval art frequently depicts, and sumptuary laws (that attempt to regulate consumption) often required, the wearing of striped clothing by the criminal, crippled, and insane. It marks those plying dishonourable trades, such as the prostitute and butcher, and those whose employment entails a degree of disruptiveness, such as the minstrel and clown.

In painting and literature, and sometimes in heraldry, its presence is a marker of treachery, rebelliousness, and cruelty.

All that may seem of another age. Yet the stripe has never quite shaken its earlier connotations of (in-)subordination. If the early modern period sees its gradual social acceptance, it remains primarily the livery of the lower classes and persists in the striped vest of the butler and uniform of the chambermaid. And it is from here, perhaps, that it makes its way out to sea.

For the stripe is the mark of the ordinary seaman, never of the officer.

Until recently, horizontal stripes paired with vertical bars signified the enclosure of the prison cell or the internment of the concentration camp, the memory of which seems recently to have eluded an international clothing label.

We might conjecture that it was its association with the subjugated or disenfranchised that led to the adoption of the tricoloured stripe as symbol of rebellion and liberation during the revolutions in the United States and France.

Today we come in all stripes. The emblematic band of provenance and identity, of the coat of arms and national flag, attaches itself to the uniform. The sign of social liminality we bestow on children, while unconsciously acknowledging that an adult swathed in stripes would be, at best, an eccentric.

The deviant stripe of the demi-mondaine, bohemian, or scoundrel crossed the line into popular culture in the 1950s and 60s. And the upright stripe of the 1930s pinstripe suit, armour of the modern warrior, has never been able to free itself from ambivalence, for it is only the changing subtleties of contrast and width that separate the stripes of the Wall Street banker from those of the Hollywood gangster.

Finally, witness the recent appearance on our intimate apparel of the pastel stripe, unable to decide whether it aspires to the purity of white or the vivacity of colour.

The stripe as cultural marker

It is hazardous to offer an aesthetic or psychological explanation for the symbolism and ideology of the stripe.

Yet there are clear perceptual differences between the neutrality and inertia of the plain surface, the orderliness of the patterned surface, on which background and foreground are distinguishable, and the pulsation of the striped surface, where no hierarchy of planes is evident.

To follow its lines crossways is to be in perpetual transition. To follow them lengthways is to be in dynamic flight – the reason, perhaps, for their popularity in sportswear.

If the restlessness of the stripe is a sign of disorder, its regularity is the imposition of order. The comb, bookshelf, fence, barcode; all are means of ordering the disorderly. The stripe, in a profound sense, is the inscription of culture itself.

The motley tunic once marked the exclusion and reintegration of the medieval fringe-dweller. Is that now the lot of all of us?

The National Gallery of Victoria will host a series of public talks on the Colourful History of the Stripe on Saturdays October 25, November 1 and 8.
The ConversationSean Ryan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Competitiveness agenda lays path for industry-led innovation: experts react

By Charis Palmer, The Conversation and Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

New incentives will push competitiveness in science and technology. Image via iStock.

The federal government has released its National Industry Investment and Competitiveness Agenda, committing around A$400 million towards “industry growth centres”, new tax incentives for employee share schemes, and a push for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.

The government has chosen to focus on five sectors for its growth centres: oil and gas, mining technology, medical technology and pharmaceuticals, food and agribusiness and advanced manufacturing, where it says Australia has a “natural advantage” it can build on.

Each of the five industry-led centres will receive funding of up to A$3.5 million per year, and be required to establish a plan to become self-sustaining after four years. Grants of up to A$1 million will also be on offer for the commercialisation of ideas.

The government said it would also reform the tax treatment of employee share schemes to support start-up companies, beginning with reversing the changes made in 2009 to the taxing point for options. There will also be new concessional tax treatment of options or shares issued by unlisted start-ups with turnover of $50 million or less.

The 457 visa program will also be reformed, with the process of sponsorship, nomination and visa applications for “low risk” applicants streamlined, English language requirements made more flexible, and the sponsorship approval period increased from 12 to 18 months for start-up businesses.

As part of its ongoing deregulatory agenda, the government will adopt a new principle that if a system, service or product has been approved under a trusted international standard or risk assessment, then Australian regulators would not impose any additional requirements for approval.

The government will also introduce a new “Premium Investor Visa” offering a faster 12 month pathway to permanent residency, for those meeting a A$15 million investment threshold.

A symbolic A$12 million of funding will be provided for programs designed to improve the focus on STEM subjects in primary and secondary schools.

The government will also establish a “Commonwealth Science Council”, chaired by the prime minister, to advise the government on areas of national strength, current and future capability and on ways to improve connections between government, research organisations, universities and business.

The government will host a series of roundtable sessions in coming months to consult with business and the research sector on the policy.

A panel of experts responds below.

Joanna Howe, Lecturer in Law at University of Adelaide

Today’s announcement by the government of a number of changes to the subclass 457 visa program represents a missed opportunity to properly reform Australia’s approach to temporary skilled migration. There is genuine public concern that temporary migrant workers are being used in areas where no skill shortage exists, thereby displacing job opportunities for Australian workers. This point was recognised by the recent independent review into the subclass 457 visa program, with the final report identifying that two core questions of the program, namely “proving that the position cannot be filled by a local worker and determining the skilled occupations that are used for the programme” are “not well served by the current policy approaches and can be improved by adopting a more robust evidence- based approach”. Yet, the government has sidestepped both these issues in the reform package announced today and ignored the report’s recommendations for a ministerial advisory council to provide expert advice on the composition of the occupational shortage list used by employers to access temporary migrant labour.

The decision to streamline the application process for low risk applicants is a positive one, as is the proposal to increase the sponsorship approval period for start up companies. Yet, ironically, a reform that would offer far more efficiency gains and was recommended by the independent review, but has not been adopted by the government, is the abolition of employer-conducted labour market testing. This would greatly aid employers and the Department of Immigration but the government seems unwilling to tackle this reform because it would be difficult to get through the Senate. Yet, the weight of scholarly evidence and indeed, the OECD’s recommendations on this point, suggest that independent labour market testing is a far better alternative.

A concerning development is the government’s proposal to weaken the English language requirement. This is currently a minimum of five across the four competencies (reading, writing, speaking and listening). The main function of the English language proficiency requirement is to ensure a 457 visa holder will not be exploited. If temporary migrant workers have lesser language skills, this could leave them vulnerable to potential health and safety risks in the workplace.

Another concerning reform is the proposal to freeze the Temporary Skill Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) at its current level and to review the role of the TSMIT in two year’s time. Like a strong English language requirement, the TSMIT has a key role in protecting the integrity of the program overall. It was introduced following the Deegan Review into the 457 visa to act as a salary floor ensuring a visa holder’s wage was sufficient to maintain a reasonable standard of living given the lack of access to welfare and tax benefits available to local workers.

Ian Maxwell, Adjunct Professor at RMIT

The concept of promoting STEM skills in schools addresses the continuing slide in the quality of high school graduates in these areas – as I have heard anecdotally from friends that teach these subjects at university. In fact, in Australia we have far too many university graduates in science and engineering and the result is that (a) there is downwards pressure on graduate salaries (further reducing the quality of people entering these degrees) and (b) there is an increase in the number of people that have science and engineering degrees that go onto to work in unrelated areas. My personal preference would be to promote special purpose high schools with a focus on science and engineering where we can put our limited resources into a fewer number of highly skilled and motivated students.

The idea that we in Australia accept international standards and risk assessments for certain product approvals is a great one. For too long, especially in the more mature industries, we have seen oligarchies in Australia exploit standards organisations in order to keep out foreign competition. This has had two unwanted consequences; firstly, it has put upward pressure on relative prices for Australia customers (due to less competition), and, secondly, it has acted as a disincentive for Australian producers to expand their focus overseas. The question is whether this new principal only for newly emerging standards, or if this brush will also be run over existing standards.

The government says it will provide A$188.5 million to fund “Industry Growth Centres” in five key sectors. There are very few details so it is hard to comment on this one other than to say that this represents a (mean) expenditure of $37 million for each of the so-called growth sectors and it would be pretty silly to expect any significant national economic outcomes from such low levels of expenditure.

Jim Minifie, Productivity Growth Program Director at Grattan Institute

For a refreshing change, the Industry and Competitiveness Agenda is a readable document that clearly sets out what the government has done and aims to do in pursuit of four goals (business environment, labour force, infrastructure, industry policy).

While the “have done” list includes some questionable calls like ending carbon pricing and the “will do” list includes some questionable commitments like the paid parental leave scheme, the concrete new initiatives announced in the Agenda look broadly sensible and do not cost much. Three of the initiatives could turn out to be big contributors to startups, gains from trade, and skilled migration.

The program offers substantial spending on apprenticeships, and several smaller funded programs.

Reforms to the Employee Share Scheme (ESS) taxation arrangements are overdue. Paying employees partly in shares or share options can be a great way for cash-strapped start-ups to reward employees while burning through a minimum of cash, but since 2009, Australian start-up employees could have to pay tax at issuance. Start-up employees have been in the absurd position of having to pay tax well before their shares can be sold for cash. While some start-ups have found ways around the restrictions, many say the rules sorely limited the value of share schemes in Australia. Shifting the point of taxation back will make make it much easier for start-ups to make attractive offers to their employees.

A tougher test on the creation of Australian standards is also welcome and overdue. Before a new Australia-specific standard can be set, regulators will need to show that there is a good reason to introduce one. Government will also apply the new test to existing Australian standards, not only new ones. Standards can be a two-edged sword: they can reduce the costs to buyers of assessing quality; but they can also be used to benefit firms whose products meet the standards by restricting competition. The reforms should also help Australian exporters achieve production scale by using a single certification for domestic and international markets.

Reforms for skilled migration are sensible as well, if relatively minor. Research overseas has shown that skilled migrants do not take jobs away from locals, but instead can boost their incomes. Skilled migrants can make locals more productive, start businesses that employ locals, or help local firms plug into international networks. Anecdotally, technology firms in some cases have had difficulty attracting top international talent. It’s less clear whether clearing the way for so-called significant and premium investors will add much value; in principle, reducing the barriers to equity capital inflow could be useful as investors can start new businesses where they live. Australia’s dividend imputation rules do probably bias foreign investment towards debt rather than equity, so there may be a broader case for to attract foreign equity including through investor visas.

STEM education in Australian schools has lagged, with enrolments falling in the 2000s, and many schools saying they are short of teachers with strong mathematics and science qualifications. While questions can be raised about whether the demand is there for tertiary STEM graduates, it’s much easier to make the case for stronger secondary STEM education, which creates options for students and builds foundation skills.

Finally, five Industry Growth Centres will get seed grants and will be able to apply for further funding. The model brings to mind the Innovation Precincts of the previous government. The focus areas (food/agribusiness; mining technology and services; oil, gas and energy; medical technology; and advanced manufacturing) are not a million miles from those suggested by the Business Council of Australia’s work with McKinsey. The logic for a subsidy is that firms can be reluctant to innovate where they expect others will capture benefits.

Australian universities do not score well on “translation” to industry. The logic for the sectors chosen seems to be that the payoff may be biggest in large or rapidly developing sectors. While a case can be made for action, the evidence base for the value of such programs is relatively weak. As long as the programs are built from the beginning with evaluation built in (and funded), they have some chance of paying off and will at least teach us about what doesn’t work.

John Rice, Associate Professor in Strategic Management at Griffith University

The promise of $185 million to establish five new “Industry Growth Centres” (in the areas of food and agribusiness, mining equipment, technology and services, oil, gas and energy resources, medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; and advanced manufacturing sectors) can be seen as a re-packaging of funds that have previously supported the eleven “Industry Skills Councils”, albeit with a focus on innovation rather than skills and training quality. Handily, the acronym doesn’t change!

Notable sectoral absences among the newly established centres are the service industries in Australia – clearly not a good omen for those industries that have not been favoured by inclusion in the narrow mandates of the new centres. In terms of governance arrangements, the new centres are clearly industry driven, while the sidelined skills councils were, to a greater or less degree, tripartite in nature with a clear role for unions.

What is lacking is a clear policy framework for industry development that encompasses skills, investment and innovation. The previous Labor government created a bricolage of bodies in the skills and innovation area with overlapping responsibilities (that even insiders struggled to understand), extraordinary bureaucratic waste and scams that siphoned State VET funding.The current government has rationalised many of these bodies, but today’s announcements in VET and innovation replace the bricolage with an equally unacceptable patchwork.

The Minister also announced half a million dollars in funding to assess the development of P-TECH-like programs in Australia. These have been developed in the US and link private employers, educational providers and (generally) low socio-economic students. In Australia, private firms have accessed public funds previously to train their employees – and generally this has not gone well.
Anecdotes of burger flippers being surreptitiously enrolled in VET programs as a means of siphoning public funds haunted the sector a few years ago. It is important that P-TECH does not emerge as a similar scam.

Suspending my natural cynicism, however, linking employers and trainees is a good thing if it is accompanied by a sense of mutual obligation. It would be tragedy to invest heavily in narrow skills sets that become worthless if a multinational employer opts to leave Australia. As such, skills should be relevant and generic, and not focused too narrowly on the processes and systems used in specific firms.

Rachel Wilson, Senior Lecturer at University of Sydney

Research has shown that educational attainment (reading, science and numeracy on PISA) and IMF measures of competitiveness are highly correlated. In Australia, however, we have declining participation and levels of attainment in STEM education that threaten future economic competitiveness. Contrast this with the massive investment, strong participation and high levels attainment in STEM among our competing and neighbourhood economies, like China, or with others, and the picture looks grim – we risk being left behind. Therefore this policy attention is very welcome and needed.

My concern is that it is still a very modest investment and is not targeted for the best bang for our buck. Provision of teaching resources is important but not as important as teacher professional development programs – particularly those focusing on teacher pedagogical content knowledge in STEM. There is evidence that those entering the teaching profession also have declining participation and attainment in science, math and technology; and current efforts to lift teacher quality are not focused on these areas. There is no requirement for teachers to have completed intermediate level maths or any science for HSC – and many do not.

The focus on a pilot program and Summer schools for students too, while admirable, will not have wide reach. Indeed there have been many such programs promoting students interest in STEM and innovation in schools over the past two decades, yet concurrently many students have dropped study in these fields and our attainment levels among 15-year olds are declining. More attention needs to be paid to teacher knowledge and pedagogy in STEM, in early childhood through to university, and on structural policy issues relating to how STEM is valued, or not, within educational curricula. In NSW the requirement for either maths or science at HSC was dropped in 2001 and since then numbers have been in decline. We cannot hope that programs to lift interest among students, so proliferate among education systems worldwide, will alone make a difference to our current position. Braver reform is needed.

The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Customers to provide the hotspots in Telstra’s new Wi-Fi plan

By Ian McShane, RMIT University; Chris K Wilson, RMIT University, and Mark A Gregory, RMIT University

Image via iStock

Telstra’s plans to rollout Australia’s largest Wi-Fi network over the next five years involves asking existing customers to allow part of their broadband connection to be used as hotspots.

More than two million new hotspots are planned as part of the A$100 million-plus strategy to increase broadband connectivity in the places that Australians live, work and visit daily. The first 1,000-hotspots will go live before Christmas.

But only two years ago Telstra shelved its plan to build a 1,000 hotspot Wi-Fi network, citing a lack of profitability and a clear customer preference for 3G connectivity.

So what has changed?

In contrast to the fixed line National Broadband Network (NBN) quagmire, the shifting position of Telstra with regards to Wi-Fi reflects a rapidly evolving wireless telecommunications market.
The continued uptake of smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices, and the increasingly central role these devices play in social, economic and political life, is generating a phenomenal demand for wireless data.

This is outpacing the development of cellular network capacity and creating congestion and reduced service quality on these networks. Telstra’s interest in developing a Wi-Fi network to offload some of this data traffic mirrors that by its international counterparts.

The fundamental role that wireless communications now play in contemporary life has also translated into government interest in the provision of public Wi-Fi as civic infrastructure. Governments are well placed to do so since they control assets, such as light poles, on which the large number of low-range Wi-Fi access points can be mounted.

While Telstra will make use of some of its own assets, such as public pay phone booths, it is seeking to establish hotspots in partnership with governments. This will spread the cost of provision, but Telstra are also undoubtedly keen to maintain some control over public Wi-Fi developments to make sure it reduces cellular congestion without cutting into its existing revenue streams.

Telstra has also developed a business model that it believes will make sure Wi-Fi becomes a profitable revenue stream. Use of Wi-Fi hotspots by Telstra’s contracted home and business broadband customers will count towards their already monetised bandwidth allowance.

Those without Telstra home broadband services will pay a fee to access the hotspots, the pricepoint of which will likely be structured to facilitate casual use but encourage regular users to consider signing up to Telstra broadband.

Compelling as these reasons may be for Telstra to dip back into Wi-Fi provision, shareholders might be forgiven for worrying that the rollout of two million hotspots is an overcommitment, and one that will present similar headaches to those faced by NBN Co. But they should fear not, as Telstra will build just 8,000 of these hotspots, with the majority actually rolled out by Telstra’s customers themselves.

A Fon on your Wi-Fi network

A fascinating aspect of Telstra’s plan is its partnership with the European-based bandwidth sharing enterprise Fon. Telstra hopes that two million of its customers will follow the lead of Fon users around the globe and make part of the bandwidth they purchase for their home or business broadband service available to other users.

So what is Fon, and are Telstra’s plans feasible?

Fon was established in 2005 by Argentinian entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky. The company is headquartered in Spain, a country with a significant history of community wireless activism, such as

Despite affectionate references to its community of “foneros”, Fon has moved some way from its cooperative roots. Backed by some heavyweight venture capitalists, Fon broke even after four years of operation.

The company has been signing exclusive deals with foreign telcos like Telstra as a means of rapidly expanding its international hotspot network. The company now claims to have more than 13 million Fon spots worldwide. These will be available to Telstra customers through the deal.

Fon’s bandwidth-sharing scheme is not unique, but its scale and ambition sets it apart. Commentators have been intrigued by the company’s evolving blend of user-generated and commercial elements.
But its service model – which concentrates provision in private homes and residential areas – has been criticised for its variable accessibility and reliability.

This concern would seem to be amplified in the large spaces of Australian cities.

How many of the projected two million hotspots will be in low density neighbourhoods where Wi-Fi signals may not extend much beyond the front gate, or where there is little passing foot traffic? Will lingering outside houses to utilise the network boost commitment to the sharing economy, or arouse suspicion?

Such suspicion will hardly be allayed by Fon’s unfortunate description of non-sharing network users as “aliens”.

Telstra, then, will be tasked with boosting provision in commercial and tourist areas, and identifying incentives for householders to sign up and share.

Who benefits from the deal?

Specifically, it enables Telstra to secure a new footing in Australia’s rapidly evolving Wi-Fi scene. By asking Telstra’s customers to purchase and maintain a key component of the network infrastructure – the signal splitting modem – Telstra outsources infrastructure investment.

More speculatively, the new network may generate revenue from casual users and remove data traffic from mobile networks in favour of premium voice services.

Fon is aiming to build its global community but its business is currently concentrated in Europe, North-east Asia and South America. An alliance with Telstra brings Fon into the Asia-Pacific region. Partnering with major telcos may also help counter criticism of Fon’s reliability.

The new hotspot network will provide a new platform for Telstra customers to access bandwidth from their home broadband plan and, depending on pricing and performance, may provide cost effective internet access for non-customers.

More generally, roll-out of the network is likely to expand commercial Wi-Fi coverage in Australian cities, and may promote innovation and further technical development.

The Conversation
Ian McShane receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Chris K Wilson and Mark A Gregory do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Thom Yorke’s 'new' music model ticks few of tomorrow's boxes

By Ian Rogers, RMIT University
This image was originally posted to Flickr by anyonlinyr and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Late last week, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke released his new solo album – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes – via BitTorrent, Inc’s “bundle” platform. Visitors to the service pay a US$6 fee, receiving the usual torrent descriptor file (much as one would on a torrent index site such as Pirate Bay) and proceed through to a downloadable bundle of eight MP3s, a music video, cover art and purchase links to the vinyl edition. To date, more than 300,000 users have either purchased the album or legally downloaded a free portion of it.

It is the paid component of the bundle that proves a potent detail here. So far, this fee-generating torrent file has been the central media hook found in reportage on the album, spreading news of Yorke’s work beyond music and entertainment journalism into the broader technology press.
In much the same way Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rainbows created a broad-reaching splash with its pay-what-you-want delivery download model – a model the band subsequently abandoned – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is an experiment only to the degree that all effective album promotion at this level is an experiment in unknowns.

This “new” delivery model, after all, draws heavily on a platform we’ve had for more than a decade now. Broadly speaking, the only part of this that is in any way new or innovative is that BitTorrent Bundles now allows users to pay for a product they’ve previously used for free, albeit often illegally.
Of course, Yorke is telling a very different story to promote the album. In the press materials accompanying Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, he is quoted as saying:
If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work. Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves, bypassing the self elected gate-keepers. If it works, anyone can do this exactly as we have done.
This is only tangentially true. It would be unwise to call the recording industry the “self elected gate-keepers” of the music industry at present. We’re now 15 years on from Napster, a moment in history read by many as the beginning of the end for the recording industry. Napster, if nothing else, proved a powerful promoter of the MP3 file format and for well over a decade independent artists have distributed their MP3s through a cavalcade of online models: begat begat access to iTunes begat, and so on.

There is no gate left to police with regard to music distribution. A small tweak to a new model does very little here.

Instead, the gate-keepers of the contemporary music industry corral attention. In a world where the cost of bringing music to market approaches zero dollars per unit (and reaps as much via Spotify and its $0.007 per track royalty), the name of the game is getting noticed and on-selling that attention to a willing buyer. In the terminology of the marketing sector, this is a strategy of brand extension and it’s far from a trade secret.

Billboard Magazine recently published a piece openly discussing the music sector’s attempts to capture more of these opportunities; similar initiatives currently net the sporting industry as much as US$12 billion annually. In that Billboard piece, Steve Pamon, marketing executive for American corporate finance juggernaut JPMorgan Chase provides an exacting account of how this transaction works:
It’s not about us supporting you, it’s about you supporting us in exchange for money. Once you tell me how it supports us, we’ll pull out all the stops to support you.
This transaction has been at the core of the mainstream commercial music business since the 1980s. Its nature rarely changes to any measurable extent. It is a case of financial capital exchanged for cultural capital, in aid of furthering financial capital. The promotional cycle for Thom Yorke’s new album will not liberate anyone from this.

Yorke’s promotional efforts may side-step the Fortune 500 in this instance, but this pay-gated bundling platform is nothing more than a microscopic step forward in a system that has – to date – failed to deliver on overly utopian promises. Put simply, this technology enables much but guarantees almost nothing beyond the status quo.

The Conversation
Ian Rogers does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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