Hard News by Russell Brown

The cap doesn't fit

The Internet NZ report Comparison of OECD Broadband Markets is a robust and useful insight on what's actually wrong with New Zealand's broadband market. The Stuff story sums it up: we don't pay a lot in international terms, but we get very little for our money.

The factor that most clearly sets us apart from other developed countries is the almost universal application of low monthly data caps, meaning that the meter is always running on broadband Internet use here.

Given that the Southern Cross Cable is in the black - the $US950 million in loans raised for its construction was paid off last October - and is still running at only around 40% of current capacity, it's hard to see what the problem is.

Our upload speeds are also a pretty nasty story. But, as Internet NZ president Colin Jackson points out in his blog, the factor the report couldn't measure - because the information is withheld by Telecom - is contention rates. Your provider can promise you any old speed - whether the backhaul capacity at exchanges actually exists to give you anything like that speed in the real world is another matter entirely.

I had a little insight into that over the weekend when Wired Country (or, as Juha likes to call it, Weird Country) went on one of its mysterious walkabouts and I was obliged to fire up my reserve DSL connection to get some Internet stuff done. Sheeeit. Is this what Telecom DSL is actually like?

(Tip: if Sky comes in and installs a MySky box and your JetStream stops working, unplug the MySky box from the phone socket. MySky decoders are a major cause of line sync issue on DSL connections. And you don't need the box plugged in unless you're using Sky Box Office anyway.)

So maybe now it gradually starts to get better. A number of the invited guests to Webstock last week made a point of including in their presentations "what took you so long?" comments with regard to our recent telecommunications unbundling news. They were genuinely horrified at the lack of competition in broadband service in New Zealand.

Ben Goodger (who, I gather, would probably be an Act voter if he stuck around here long enough to vote) made the most explicit commentary on what he regarded as a move towards competition. He said, roughly:

- Lack of inexpensive broadband is an opportunity missed
- Affordable broadband ensures access to the kind of high-quality new applications that people elsewhere enjoy.
- And it encourages developers to build those applications for New Zealand and the world.

"We are a gifted, hard-working people," he concluded, and we deserved a shot at developing for the world.

The bandwidth situation in Wellington was initially not so as to impress our guests. The opening workshops on Tuesday had to go forward without connectivity, because CityLink (of all people!) had done something untoward with its routing and there was no connectivity at the Town Hall. Fortunately, that was cleared up quickly, and the venue had first good wired Internet then free WiFi restored for the duration.

Meanwhile, back at the Museum Hotel, the free WiFi in every room was extremely elusive. Kelly Goto had to decamp to the lobby to send some emails. After I checked in, there was a brief flicker of in-room WiFi, but then it was gone. There was an ethernet router on the desk, so I plugged it in and the right lights lit up, so I called reception and asked if I could use that. Yes, if I came down and got a network cable.

"Would you like a red one?" asked the young lady on the desk. How sweet.

After a bit of arsing about obtaining another login and password, wired Internet to my room was running quite well - except for the times when the DHCP server popped up messages saying I couldn't have the IP address it had given me because it had already given it to someone. Hmmm.

The Daily Telegraph's story about the White House re-writing Tony Blair's big foreign policy speech at Georgetown University - requiring him to change the script on climate change, Iran, the IMF and the World Bank - is extraordinary if sadly unsurprising. The paper followed it up with a blistering editorial headed Once again, Mr Blair puts America first.

It had to happen: in response to news of the Haditha massacre, one of the knuckle-draggers at Little Green Footballs brought out Orwell's "rough men" quote (which, according to the Orwell FAQ, Orwell never actually said, although he did express similar sentiments) by way of justification. Back in the real world, there is talk that the marines involved could face the death penalty, but blame must surely go higher up than the men who departed so horribly from human decency that they slaughtered women and children as they cowered in their homes. The Guardian story over the weekend had an interesting quote:

British soldiers currently in Iraq said they were anxious to distance themselves from the Americans but that Iraqis did seem able to make a distinction. One private, who did not wish to be named, said: 'We are given an education: the Americans get shown how to use a gun. The Iraqis know the difference.'

It's hard to imagine how things could go more wrong than this, but it would be unwise to bet against it.

On a happier note, the bloggiest of the Herald's contributors, Ana 'Sideswipe' Samways, has gone and got herself a blog, along with Stephen Shaw. Do check out Spare Room.

And, finally, after that bizarre fog-bound final, Nic Jones - who led pretty much from the start - has taken the honours on the Public Address Virtual Super 14 leader board. Check it out and see who you beat. And Nic, I'll be in touch soon with a little prize for you …