The pitchforks are ready, the torches are primed and the inquisition of tech giants (Microsoft, Apple and Adobe) and their rapacious price gouging in Australia is set to get underway.
The announcement of a parliamentary inquiry into Australian IT price points has followed a wave of public fury and the man responsible for galvanising this outcry is Labor MP Ed Husic, who reckons that the big companies owe Australian consumers an explanation.
Husic's long running campaign against the pricing disparities has not only struck a chord with the public, who are posting support on his Twitter page and through the Twitter hashtag, #fairIT4oz, but also prompted the government to take action.
It’s quite an achievement for the first-time backbencher from the outer suburbs of Sydney but can Husic take on the tech giants and win?
Lighting the fire
It’s hard to believe that Husic’s year-long campaign emerged out of a couple emails about the price of video games. Husic voiced the concerns of his constituents about the price differences between the US and Australia in a speech to parliament early last year. From there the issue only began to escalate as more emails started to pour in.
“If the major companies had been more forthcoming about [the causes behind] their prices, I don’t think this would have snowballed,” Husic told Technology Spectator.
After a year of letter writing, tweeting and general lobbying, Husic now finds himself at the helm of a large angry mob of consumers, baying for blood. Husic says that his immediate focus is to try to channel that anger into submissions for the inquiry which he hopes will increase the “transparency” of how tech companies come up with their pricing.
He particularly wants clarification from companies about the current pricing regime and their claim that it is “what the market can bear”. In other words, if consumers are willing to pay an amount for an item, manufacturers are more than happy to keep charging that amount for it.
Needless to say, the odds are stacked against the MP. Two prior inquiries on the prices of books and CDs seemingly have had little impact on retail pricing and there is plenty of doubt about whether this inquiry will be a trial by fire for tech companies or just another exercise in spin.
The University of Western Australia’s centre of software practices director, David Glance, says it’s unlikely that the inquiry will have a tangible difference on Australia’s tech prices.
“The government can’t tell a company what its prices should be,” Glance says.
“It would be very hard for them to do.”
Glance contents that other price inquires have come and gone without discernable price differences.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) may have more luck in influencing price points. However, as with most cases its intervention will solely rely upon whether Husic’s inquiry raises any legal red flags in relation to Australian consumer laws.
Regardless of the outcome, in some ways Husic may have already won. In his first term as a backbencher he has not only managed to garner more than his fair share of media coverage but also masterminded a substantial public campaign. That’s more than some of his compatriots in Canberra can claim.
Of course, the general public will be hoping this inquiry brings more than just political brownie points. With all the angst that the lead-up to the inquiry has generated, there could be some backlash if all this fury comes to nothing.