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Wikileaks shock: US watches tech news as well

Turn on your irony detectors

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In yet another round of stunning revelations, leaked cables published on Wikileaks demonstrate clearly that US embassies assign staff to read newspapers and send digests back to America, and wherever possible, they toe the party line.

What’s been leaked this time includes previously classified unclassified cables summarizing Australia's local news such as the law suit between Telstra and the federal government over the National Broadband Network, and the Hollywood-versus-iiNet court case.

The two cables, unlike others whose headlines fairly leap off the page (news summaries following the 2009 Victorian bushfires, political biographies, and surely the Wikileaks headline-of-the-year, “Right of Centre Unions Dominate in Victoria”), contain almost nothing of interest.

The iiNet cable is nothing more than a case summary from 2010, except that includes this snippet of editorializing at the end: “In the meantime, the problem will persist and probably worsen with the advent of Australia's high-speed National Broadband Network, as the speeds at which copyright theft can take place will literally multiply.”

This restatement of the copyright industry’s party line is unsurprising. As many outlets have reported, including this one, US embassies have been working hard to persuade other countries to implement the copyright regimes favoured by American content industries. In New Zealand, the Green Party has accused America of being the author of the harsh copyright regime introduced this year.

Even less surprising is the other unclassified cable that’s been seized upon by the Australian tech press, in which ACCC staffers briefed US officials on developments in the Australian telecommunications market.

Only two aspects of the cable are faintly newsworthy: the word “Wikileaks”, which would get headlines applied to a shopping list; and the mundane and sometimes-mistaken market forecasts made by the ACCC.

It doesn’t get more mundane than this: “the Government's failure to split the company and create only weak separation of operations left Telstra well positioned to exploit cross-subsidization opportunities in future ventures.” Given that this statement was nothing more than the received wisdom of every commentator in the Australian telecommunications industry since privatization began in the 1990s, the US officials could have cribbed that information from any source; coming from the ACCC merely gave it a credible source.

And then there’s this prediction: “If the story was voice, Telstra dominance could be threatened by mobiles,” the ACCC reps told the US officials. “But the story is data transmission, which is whe re all the new money is coming from.” The ACCC cited the limitations on wireless networks as reasons that fixed networks would be the telco income battleground of the future.

But that was in 2007, and the world’s changed since then. Wireless data has emerged as a distinct market in its own right, and is driving huge and accelerating takeup both on the competing 3G networks, and of new types of devices.

If anything, however, the “ACCC Wikileaks cable” demonstrates that the ACCC was scrupulous in its dealings with US embassy personnel: the cable discloses no information of any kind that was not also available from public sources, either in the form of news or commentary.

The “leaked” cable is nothing more than an ordinary government-to-government briefing, and does nothing more than endorse what most sensible commentators have said for years. Hardly time to fetch the popcorn. ®

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