The Downstream Diary — a month of it

From OpenCircuit: A digest of news and happenings from TUANZ' Downstream blog

Thursday 8 May

TUANZ Telecommunications Day saw big attendance this year with standing room only for the morning sessions. International keynote speaker David Isenberg set the scene by telling us that telecommunications should be about managing abundance, not scarcity. He held up a hunk of fibre cable and said that if all calls were routed through it, the entire population of the world could be on the phone at the same time and there would still be room to download a season of Desperate Housewives. (Okay, so he didn’t say the bit about Desperate Housewives, but he did say it would still leave 100 dark fibres, which equates to 160 wavelengths carrying 10Gbit/s each).

Which begs the question, if the entire world was on the phone, who would you be calling? I’d like to think I’d be on the line to Finland. The day closed with Dr Stuart Corson explaining why this cold little country at the tip of the globe is a leading ICT nation. There’s maybe a quarter of the attendees still around from the morning but for some it’s the most significant speech of the day.

Sunday 11 May

Sometimes you blog on a Sunday — like when you’ve shouted drinks for a group of carrier employees because you’d wrongly suspected their statistics on pricing. But then you find out you might have been right all along.

That’s what happened to Ernie, who publicly admitted he was wrong to deny Vodafone’s claim they’d made it into the top half the OECD for cheaper mobile prices. But, after reading the National Business Review, he discovered that the “You Choose” plans for which Vodafone achieved the ranking may have been constructed especially for the OECD, and not the New Zealand user. Apparently when Commerce Commission staff decided to check the veracity of the deals they visited a number of stores and found sales assistants knew nothing about the cheap plans.

Vodafone spokesperson Paul Brislen commented on the blog that while their sales staff might be in the dark, the “You Choose” plans are widely available. According to Brislen, the real issue is that these plans “don’t deliver as much value” as plans such as BestMate, which the OECD, for some unknown reason, doesn’t consider in its analysis.

Wednesday 14 May

Ernie farewelled former Telecom top executive Simon Moutter by reminiscing about a conference in 2000 when Moutter presented in the speaking slot before him and ran 10 minutes over time.

Wednesday 14 May

I noticed that TUANZ has made it into the top ten for visitors to technology sites as measured by Neilsen Netratings and put it on the blog in a moment of pride. Both Ernie and the TUANZ board later ask me why we aren’t in the top five.

Friday 16 May

On the way to work I tuned into an interview on Radio Live with Graeme Hill and Ernie discussing mobile pricing. The context for the story was Minister David Cunliffe’s announcement that Vodafone and Telecom had sold vital spectrum to NZ Communications, but Ernie said that co-location of cellphone towers is still a huge barrier to the new entrant.

Hill then came up with the idea that an organisation independent of the carriers should administer the sites and Ernie said this is what happens in Australia and TUANZ would like to see the same here.

Hill was amazed he had come up with a viable plan for mobile co-location with no prior knowledge of the issues. Which makes you wonder — if it’s so obvious to people outside the sector, why isn’t it being done?

Hill finished his interview by praising Ernie for “doing God’s work”. Naturally I wrote a blog about it and included a photograph taken at Telecommunications Day of Ernie framed by a halo of light talking to Minister Cunliffe.

Wednesday 21 May

Ernie raved on the blog about how fabulous telepresence is after he was invited to demonstration at the new Cisco offices: “We could read the time in Singapore on the High Commissioner’s watch!”

A comment from “Rod” suggests there should be a telepresence suite in every NZTE office in the world – “that would rock”. Right on Rod!

I blogged about a visit to the Christchurch premises of Eaton Corporation, the company building 3,600 cabinets for Chorus. During the factory tour I learned that the cabinets combine PSTN and DSL services and will serve 300 customers each.

In addition to Telecom Wholesale’s equipment there is room set aside for six access seekers to install “pizza box” DSLAMs. There’s also provision for 40-50 fibre connections, which Chorus chief executive Mark Ratcliffe said are likely to serve business customers such as branches of large banks. It was not clear whether these fibre connections will also be available to competitors, but the next day at the TUANZ After 5s, in Wellington, Ratcliffe told the audience that Telecom will not be reselling dark fibre.

Thursday 22 May

Ernie attended the Budget lock-up and blogged that he is “underwhelmed” by the $325 million Broadband Investment Fund announced by the government. This comment is picked up by a number of the media, including the editor of this esteemed publication.

Later I asked Ernie what it’s like in the lock-up and he told me he spent 10 minutes reading the policy, 20 minutes composing his response and three-and-half-hours waiting for the door to open so he could get out of there.

Friday 23 May

Ernie revisited the Broadband Investment Fund and decided that while it’s true the dollar amount isn’t nearly as impressive as the National Party’s promised $1.5 billion; the “bottom up” approach to funding is to be applauded.

Monday 26 May

I blogged about the TUANZ submission on the Draft Digital Strategy 2.0. The aesthetic evil of bullet points is deployed in order to summarise the TUANZ position:

• Fibre to the premise (FTTx) to become the overarching goal of an ambitious Digital Strategy

• The government should cast a wider net when considering who will invest in broadband infrastructure

• Serious analysis is needed into the benefits of fibre networks to rural communities

• A clear definition is required of open access and the suggestion that the government investigate the recent law change in France which had made all ducts open access

• A well resourced and unified response is needed to address the skills crisis.

• Publicly funded research should be more closely aligned with private sector goals

• A distinct government agency should be established to implement the Digital Strategy.

Tuesday 27 May

Ernie noted that an independent assessment by the New Zealand Computer Society showed that not one of the 18 NCEA Technology Achievement Standards is appropriate to prepare students for tertiary computer science study. What’s more, the Ministry of Education acknowledged the failure. Dismal.

Tuesday 3 June

I posted a video on YouTube featuring Ernie and Rod Oram discussing the importance of broadband to the rural economy and then put it on the blog. I felt quite pleased with myself that I was able to get both of them out to a paddock in front of a camera with one day’s notice.

I wanted dairy cows in the background because we had Fonterra and Dairy New Zealand’s head of research on the programme, but didn’t quite manage it. Then Oram pointed out during the shoot that the smattering of large brown animals behind him are actually cattle. Oh well. I email the link to a telco PR and he responds with the cryptic message: “Not enough accordion”.

Sarah Putt is TUANZ policy and communications manager, who together with TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman contributes to the TUANZ blog, Downstream.

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