NZ still Broadband Basketcase

The OECD broadband survey figures for the first half of this year are out. Once again they show that New Zealand is doing pretty badly in the telecommunications stakes. We're placed 22 out of 30 OECD countries in terms of broadband uptake with 6.9 subscribers per 100 people. The OECD average is 11.8 subscribers and to hit the top half of the table, New Zealand would need about twice as many broadband users as it has today - around 570,000.

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NZ still Broadband Basketcase

The OECD broadband survey figures for the first half of this year are out. Once again they show that New Zealand is doing pretty badly in the telecommunications stakes. We’re placed 22 out of 30 OECD countries in terms of broadband uptake with 6.9 subscribers per 100 people. The OECD average is 11.8 subscribers and to hit the top half of the table, New Zealand would need about twice as many broadband users as it has today – around 570,000.

As we’ve noted before, the low broadband uptake figures are evidence that the Telecommunications Act and entire regulatory regime around it are dismal failures. Stopping short of admitting this, the once again minister of communications David Cunliffe got a review of the Telco Act 2001 underway last term and published the proposed changes to it in August. They’re too little, too late though. The rest of the world isn’t standing still waiting for us to catch up unfortunately.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Telecom isn’t reading the Telecommunications Act like the devil reads the bible. On top of low datacaps and high pricing, what makes DSL less attractive in New Zealand than overseas is the ridiculously low upstream speed of 128kbit/s.

We’ve been harping on about this for ages at Computerworld, but it’s now becoming more apparent as business customers are being forced off their expensive full-rate JetStream plans and onto upstream-choked Commercial and soon Regulated UBS (I will call them CUBS and RUBS because it sounds funny). These customers soon discover that sharing a 128kbit/s upstream just does not work because TCP requires two-way communication even for downloads.

But does the RUBS really have to have such low upstream speed? The “Limits on access principles” in the Telecommunications (Fixed Public Data Network) Order 2004 says the following about the upstream speed:

(a) the service requires a maximum upstream throughput rate of 128 kbps for data traffic sent from the end-user; and

Note the word “throughput” there. The section continues:

(b) the service requires a downstream throughput rate for data traffic sent to the end-user that must---

(i) not be less than 32 kbps; and

(ii) have an average of not less than 256 kbps

It would seem from the above that RUBS can in fact have a higher upstream connection speed than 128kbit/s. It’s just that Telecom isn’t required to provide a higher throughput for the service than 128kbit/s.

The meaning of “throughput” in the context of the Order in Council is presumably what the Commerce Commission now terms Sustained Information Rate or SIR. This is apparent when you read the bit about the downstream throughput rate, which for RUBS must not be less than 32kbit/s and on average, not less than 256kbit/s. Despite these figures, we have 1 and 2Mbit/s CUBS currently, and soon, up to 7.6MBit/s RUBS. Those are what the Commission calls Peak Information Rates (PIR), which is highest top speed that the service can provide for bursts of data on an un-congested network.

There is no such PIR set for the upstream speed however. If the “throughput” figures above were hard limits, then TelstraClear’s upcoming RUBS would run at 256kbit/s down and 128kbit/s up, and nothing more.

Why then is Telecom choking it down to 128kbit/s and saying this is a legal requirement? Furthermore, Telecom’s CUBS can have any upstream speed possible within the technical limitations of DSL. It’s just that Telecom’s marketroids don’t want us to have faster upstream, quite simply.

- OECD Broadband Statistics June 2005

- Telecommunications (Fixed Public Data Network) Order 2004

- Implementation Review of the Telecommunications Act 2001: media statement from David Cunliffe, minister of communications

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