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A community vision of the Internet

Or: War Comes to Mallacoota

by Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society

Tuesday 16 July 1996, Canberra, at the Seminar:


Announcement & Summary

Tom Worthington Tom Worthington will argue that the Internet provides particular advantages for people in previously isolated rural areas, to do their business better. He will relate his own experience of reporting on military exercise Kangaroo 95 from several thousand kilometres away in Mallacoota in Victoria. Tom will also talk about some of the on-line services now available from Australian business, Government and community organisations. He will give an up-to-the-minute report on work to place all Australian Government information on-line.

About the speaker

Tom Worthington is National President of the Australian Computer Society and Deputy Director, Information management Planning, Australian Department of Defence. Tom is co-author of the ACS InfoBahn Policy, member of a government committee preparing the Architecture For Access To Government Information and has been described by Information Age magazine as one of the 50 most influential IT&T people in Australia.

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For registration details see:

Draft 2.0 of 14 July 1996: The content of this talk will be developed here between 30 June and 16 July 1996. Suggestions and comments welcome:


Vision for a Networked Nation

In 1994 Roger Clarke and I wrote
"Vision for a Networked Nation", as an ACS submission to assorted government and parliamentary enquiries.

The vision essentially was that Australians would have easy, low cost access to on-line facilities for routine business, cultural and government activities. We wanted to make the Internet an ordinary tool for people to use. Much of that vision has already been achieved, through the work of people in Australian academia, government, industry and the community. However there is much to do, particularly to see that Australians outside cities do not become the information poor.

War comes to Mallacoota

Map of Northern Australia Exercise KANGAROO 95 took place in an area of over 4 million km square, across the Top End of Australia from July to the end of August 1995 and involved over 17,000 Australian Defence Force troops, and visiting units from the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, the UK and Indonesia.
Robert Lester and satellite communications Reports and photographs were transmitted from the exercise area using stand-alone portable satellite communications terminals, capable of full 64k duplex high speed data.

As manager of the Defence home page, I received the reports at Defence headquarters in Canberra and up-loaded, them to a publicly accessible Internet server at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

K'95 Logo During the exercise the Department of Administrative Services announced K'95 trucking tenders on its Government Electronic Marketplace Service (GEMS). GEMS was linked to the K'95 home page, demonstrating the synergy possible with the Internet.

"Commercial off the shelf" lap top computers and Internet software were used for transmitting the photos and reports. Photos were processed for efficient on-screen display, but also proved useful for printed reproduction.

Tom Worthington at Mallacoota For the first week of the exercise I was officially on holiday, but maintained the K95 home page remotely using a pocket modem and lap top PC from Mallacoota, Victoria.

Cynics might say, that's fine for the defence forces with their portable satellite communications terminals transmitting full 64k duplex high speed data, but what about Farmer Brown?

Australia Defence are now bringing into service satellite units which use the Optus commercial service. This will help bring lower cost communications to remote areas. It will still be more expensive than wired or wireless connections in the city, but will be cheaper than current satellite systems for remote users.

At the Mallacoota end of the link I had an ordinary consumer model laptop PC, modem and ordinary phone line. There is a lot you can do an ordinary phone line, even one where you have to pay long distance phone rates and get limited bandwidth.

The Defence Web guidelines set out that pages should be able to be used on low bandwidth links and text only browsers. I try and design my Web pages so they are usable with graphics at 9600 bps and at 2400 bps with text only. The Internet allows layered services, with the more important information available at low bandwidth.

In the city the limitation will not be bandwidth, but people's ability to absorb information. Already on-line executives can receive much more information in a day than they could absorb in a year. We are starting to see software for filtering information, so they get the high priority material, condensed in an easy to use form. This is especially a priority for Command Support Systems (CSS) systems. We will see the same techniques used to condense information for low bandwidth users.

Some examples of information condensing:

We will be launching the Defence Home Page MKIII in September and I hope to incorporate some of these techniques. It is easy to build a Web page with lots of flashy animated graphics which look good in a demonstration environment; it is difficult to build one which looks good and also gets useful information out to the public, but it is possible.

Lots of information is already on-line

More information will be on-line

I will not go into the detail of the various Government and non-Government initiatives for putting information and services on-line. You can read of them elsewhere.

The scope of some of these initiatives is breathtaking. A few months ago the Information Management Steering Committee-Technical Group (IMSC-TG), which I am a member of, was tasked to:

Investigate how government information can be made visible on the Internet in a consistent and standard way irrespective of whether or not it is available on the Internet.
The draft report 28 June 1996, recommends:
1. That HTML/http be adopted as the universal client access mechanism for Australian Government information, regardless of agencies' internal data formats and search mechanisms.
2. That agencies identify their information holdings needing to be made visible on-line and make descriptions of these resources available on the Internet, directly as Web documents or as records in an agency...
If implemented, anyone anywhere in Australia who has Internet access will have an index to all the information the Government has (which can be made public). Someone in Mallacoota will have as much access to Government information as someone in Canberra. This should have a profound and beneficial effect.

Australia's stake in the global information industry

See also

About the ACS

The Australian Computer Society is the professional association in Australia for those in the computing and information technology fields. It was established in 1966. The Society has over 16,000 members and on a per capita basis is one of the largest computer societies in the world.

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