E-tales: Back-door competition

New Zealand's telco industry really is a weird and wonderful place

Back-door competition

New Zealand’s telco industry really is a weird and wonderful place. Pondering the not very surprising news last week from the Commerce Commission that Kiwis still enjoy some of the highest charges for both fixed and mobile service, E-tales googled “Orcon” and “Kordia”.

The latter is really the transmission bit of TVNZ and remains an SOE — it got renamed Kordia in late 2006. Then, in July 2007, Kordia went on to buy major ISP Orcon, for $24 million. And, more recently, it has got into the business of what it calls “Metro wi-fi”, which involves stretching hot-spots across the CBD. It plans a nationwide service, starting with Auckland and Taupo.

The point of all this is: has the government given up on seriously making Telecom embrace competition in services? Is it instead delivering a competing service by the back door? After all, mobile telephony was originally developed in the US to circumvent the monopolistic practices of telecoms giant AT&T. Yes, we do now have separation of Telecom into three, but many people are unconvinced this will have much competitive effect.

One chap made an interesting comment on an NZ Herald story on separation. He said: “The subtle message to Telecom is get the network up to speed and quickly or we will buy it back and do it ourselves.”

Maybe the government is already quietly hedging its bets.

We shouldn’t laugh

Ever wondered if street security cameras really do deter crims? Well, researchers in San Francisco combed the Police Department’s crime data, and their findings are not good news for safer cities — or for ratepayers meeting the cost of the cameras.

US security commentator Bruce Schneier says researchers examined data detailing the 59,706 crimes committed within 1,000 feet of the city’s cameras, between January 2005 and January 2008.

“Using a complicated method, researchers were able to come up with an average daily crime rate at each location broken out by type of crime and distance from the cameras. They then compared it with the average daily crime rate from the period before the cameras were installed,” Schneier reports, on his blog.

“They looked at seven types of crime: larcenies, burglaries, motor vehicle theft, assault, robbery, homicide and forcible sex offences.

“The only positive deterrent effect was the reduction of larcenies within 100 feet of the cameras. No other crimes were affected — except for homicides, which had an interesting pattern.

“Murders went down within 250 feet of the cameras, but the reduction was completely offset by an increase 250 to 500 feet away, suggesting people moved down the block before killing each other.”

ThinknDrinkn not so smart

The trouble with being a teenager is that the reasoning bit of the brain has yet to kick in. This is understandable, but E-tales wonders if excessive exposure to adolescents is behind some Scottish teachers’ decision to get a bunch of students to devise an anti-boozing computer game that, well, leaves a lot to be desired.

The Scottish Daily Record reports the game — to be used in classrooms across Scotland — features vomiting, with sick being spewed across the screen, and the drunk falling down unconscious if not got to hospital quickly enough.

The negotiate-various-hazards ThinknDrinkn game seeks to “engage students on their own territory”, according to one of the teachers, Andrew Dickie. The Campaign for Real Education isn’t so sure that having 11 and 12 year olds watch their screen buddies drink themselves unconscious is such a good idea.

Muso castigates freetards

Veteran leftie British muso Billy Bragg has a refreshing take on Silicon Valley greed — ooops! VCs. He has waded into the music-downloading debate with a radical question — why should songwriters starve so that tech venture capitalists can get rich?

Bragg says that when music downloaders sock it to The Man they’re making him stronger and the actual music-makers weaker. Speaking to online news-site The Register, he said recording rights must be retained or else, not only will musos starve, but listeners will end up with only “spoon-fed corporate stars”.

However, he’s not into clobbering end-users; rather he’s keen to open up the debate about how Web 2.0 can to offer artists a revenue stream — especially as the internet is good for “quirky” or “different” artists, he says.

Radio pays artists’ royalities; Web 2.0 is not that different, says Bragg. Fewer CDs being sold and record shops being squeezed out are hitting artists hard financially. The value of music has not become zero — MySpace knows that — but the exchange has become valueless with the advent of Web 2.0, he says.

For more on this story, check out The Register’s audio interview with Bragg. It’s well worth the effort.

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