To be blunt, if the government's Internet censorship proposal
in put into practice unchanged then science in Australia is stuffed.
Science has always been a global undertaking. Researchers
interested in the same problems share data, theories and
conclusions. Victorian scientists wrote
letters to journals, 1970's scientists used faxes, 1980's scientists
used computer tapes and in the 1990's scientists built the Internet
and the world wide web.
To date the operation of science hasn't been overly hurt by
censorship laws. The nearest brush being early research into the social
behaviours which spread what we then called LAV/HTLV-III. We had posters
at shopping centre bus stops explaining how to clean needles using household
bleach -- what modern censors would call "instruction in matters of
crime". We handed out leaflets explaining the risks of
sexual behaviour, asking gay men to stop anal fisting and other grossly
bruising activities and to use condoms whilst committing the crime
Could we do the same on the Labor Internet? What we we did was
a private initiative to fill the gap until the necessarily slower but
much more organised government programmes got underway, so it would not fit under the "public health" exemption.
We would need a website with age verification. That's somewhat pointless
when trying to educate the public and wouldn't work at all for educating
IV drugs users and gay men (hey, enter your home address here and we'll
store it so that the police can get a warrant for it later). Remember
that some politicans seriously talked about placing AIDS patients into
concentration camps; we had a huge amnount of difficulty just getting
enough basic information to stop us double-counting infections.
There is another group of scientists also effected by the censorship
proposal. Scientists now use the Internet to share datasets. A 10Gbps
connection is faster than putting tapes on a plane and is a lot more
convenient. All of the new instruments are interactive -- for these
applications there is no "tape" option anymore.
But no firewall runs at 10Gbps. Sure, some say they do in the spec
sheet, but in reality they are CPU-based and add considerable jitter.
You'll recall that TCP interprets jitter as desceasing the probability
that the round-trip time estimate is correct, and to avoid potential
congestion collapse the transmission rate is lowered. So the researcher
wanting to send data at 10Gbps cannot achieve this, even though the
firewall claims 10Gbps throughput.
The obvious solution is not to run a firewall. But the Labor Internet
is a proposal to place a firewall within the ISP's network.
So what projects share datasets at 10Gbps? Basically all the astronomy,
physics and biochemistry projects of the coming decade. If the Labor Internet places
a firewall in the paths used by those projects then Australian science
in those fields is dead. The search for the Higgs Boson will only
be claimed by an Australian if that scientist is working outside of Australia.
The project to build a half-continent radio telescope -- the Square
Kilometre Array -- may as well take place in South Africa, leaving Australia
without the top-flight instrument in a field of science it has dominated
for 50 years. There will be no rapid access to databases of protemes (the proteins used as
messengers by our DNA), reducing Australia's biosciences to a poor joke.
There may well be other projects at risk. One of the advantages of packet
switched network is that the users can just use the bandwidth -- no
reservation is necessary. The flip-side of this convenience is that finding
the research projects which use the capacity is not straightforward.
We might well be able to use some non-Internet
scheme for data transfers, such as 10Gbps SDH channels.
costs are higher since the link (and thus the link's cost) cannot be
shared. Each project will need to meet the $30m undersea capacity lease.
But if leasing links is the solution then it is easily seen that the Labor Internet ensures that Australia will never again be
at the forefront of some sciences. A research grant takes about three years to
achieve. Imagine asking for $30m of bandwidth three years prior to your
research's requirement. Research is not construction, it's simply not
going to happen -- progress three years prior will be too tentative for
approval for such a huge expenditure, and if approved then costs will be
controlled by limiting the lease of the bandwidth to the minimum. So if
your research progresses well you will need to wait months for the
necessary bandwidth, and if it progresses slowly (or not all all, since
this is research and not all therories are correct) you will have squandered
The beauty to the researcher of using the Internet for data transfer
and other scientific collaboration is that the expensive resource need
only be bought once, can be shared, and can be used by the researcher
as required, using the equipment that they use every day.
If I sound upset then that is because I am. Like many scientists I have
decided not to move to the USA, but to assist solving the problems faced
by the country which raised me, encouraged me, and gave me an education
in the first place. But if this stupid proposal makes it to actuality then I
will either need to move overseas, stay to watch Australian science
wither, or take up some non-science job like driving taxis or network
engineering for a commercial ISP.
The Internet was originally built as a scientific instrument. The world
wide web was orignally built as a scientific instrument. Just because they
have continued on to revolutionise telecommunications doesn't mean that
the Internet and the WWW no longer serve their scientific purpose.