Fry Up - Notes on a debate

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Notes on a debate

Moot: Politics has no business in telecommunications

Location: The George, Christchurch

Time and date: 7.30am, Tuesday May 10

Introduction

Alcatel Lucent CTO Martin Sharrock tiptoes across the metaphorical picket fence. Sample: “Net neutrality needs to be a very delicate balance between politics and making sure that we do still innovate in the telecomms industry.”

Lands on the side of Christchurch by talking about how it wasn’t politics, but collaboration, that came to fore when the telcos worked together to restore the networks after the February 22 earthquake.

Chairperson

Explains the rules of engagement but forgets to include the DISCLAIMER and is pulled up by out of town debaters, Telecommunications Carriers Forum CEO David Stone and REANNZ CEO Donald Clark. Returns to the stage to deliver the following DISCLAIMER:

“Everything that is said today is personal opinion or is said in the spirit of a debate. They are in no way representing the institutions in which they are employed.”

First affirmative speaker

TCF CEO David Stone makes classic telco move of starting the contest by claiming the referee is biased: “There are two people on the negative but you’ve heard the chairman speak already so there are clearly three people on the negative. Already politics is rearing its ugly head in the business of telecommunications.”.

Three letter acronym du jour appears – UFB. “Mr Key’s grand plan, Mr Joyce’s great execution. And is it really? What’s it going to deliver to us? It’s going to deliver a network capable of giving you 100Mbps at home. Can anyone tell me what the hell you’re going to use that for?

Interjection from REANNZ CEO Donald Clark: “Absolutely, baby”.

“Geek speak, or a geek speaking, I’m not sure which,” replies Stone, who claims to be happy with the 15Mbps he’s currently receiving at home.

First negative speaker

Clarus CEO Edwin Dando provides a quick history lesson on the development of telecommunications (from grunting, to semaphore to fibre networks in three minutes).

Points out that a company’s legal obligation is to make money for its shareholders. “It’s written into company law, there’s no need to consider society or the broader public... have telcos done what’s best for New Zealand by the free market system? No. They’ve focussed on the single bottom line. Our telcos have an obligation to serve their shareholders.”

Second affirmative speaker

Jade CIO John Ascroft begins with humour which doesn’t exactly strengthen his case.

“Can the companies be trusted? I don’t know. Can a bunch of list MPs be trusted?”(audience laughs).

“It was my attempt to make this informative and entertaining as possible so I did a Google search on telecommunication jokes, but it was bloody hopeless, the only thing that came back was Vodafone’s 3G coverage.” (audience laughs louder).

Questions if the focus on ‘last mile’ connectivity is more about vote catching then solving the bandwidth problem, and the real issue is international bandwidth, as 90% of local traffic goes overseas. “So you put 100Mbps into every house, you’ve still got a bottleneck on the Southern Cross Cable. The only thing you’re going to get access to is Trade Me and Parliament TV.”

Second negative speaker

Donald Clark launches into a discussion about human rights, taking his cue from Finland who enshrined the citizen’s right to receive connectivity of 1Mbps today, moving to 100Mbps in 2015.

“Fundamentally the land that these lines flow under is common access. They’re your property and the benefits that such utilities provide are important enough to be publically protected.”

“The reason Telecom NZ was separated was because they tried to control the whole stack. So, if we’re doing this we have to do it in a smart way and that requires open, neutral, carriage provisions for data.”

Rebuttal

Affirmative: Stone points out there was less innovation when government controlled the telco networks then when private companies did. “ Where we’re headed under UFB, where Crown Fibre Holdings will set the whole access market for the next 20 years, you’re going to be given a set of products now, where’s the incentive for those guys to create new products and innovate? It doesn’t exist.”

Negative: Clark says 100Mbps is not enough, when three people in the home are watching three different HDTV channels and trying to upload files. “And we don’t have 15Mbps, we have 42Kbps CIR (Committed Information Rate) and when you go home in the evening your internet grinds to a halt.”

Audience participation and vote

Questions and commentary around:

  • the price of getting a new premise connected to fibre after the earthquake ($100,000),
  • whether the UFB should deliver ROI,
  • the concern that the universities handed over the internet to Telecom in the 1990s and all it did was raise prices,
  • the idea that when electricity companies get involved we are paying twice – as electricity consumers and as taxpayers and that electricity companies are fat lazy monopolies that are investing in telco because they view it as an unregulated market.

Final question from a student, who asks if there is a third way, one that doesn’t involve governments or companies in achieving a better connectivity. The answer appears to be - lay the fibre from your house, to your curb - yourself.

The winning team is decided by the audience, who are asked to make the most noise for the team they consider has made the most convincing argument.

Negative wins.

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