Google Earth; Unbundling fiasco

Here's a good example of the neat things you can do over a fast internet connection: Google Earth. It's the Keyhole stuff that Google bought some time ago, and now refined into a very impressive application. Hours of fun, but requires a fast Windows PC and at least 128kbit/s interweb - Google Earth streams the image data to the desktop app, so even if you're on a nominally fast broadband connection, you may find like I did that it doesn't work too good well congestion sets in due to your provider oversubscribing network capacity to the hilt.

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- Google to Earth, come in

- Partial unbundling complete fiasco

Google to Earth, come in

Here’s a good example of the neat things you can do over a fast internet connection: Google Earth. It’s the Keyhole stuff that Google bought some time ago, and now refined into a very impressive application. Hours of fun, but requires a fast Windows PC and at least 128kbit/s interweb — Google Earth streams the image data to the desktop app, so even if you’re on a nominally fast broadband connection, you may find like I did that it doesn’t work too good well congestion sets in due to your provider oversubscribing network capacity to the hilt.

- Google Earth beta

Partial unbundling complete fiasco

In 2003, when our Telecommunications Commissioner slammed into reverse on local loop unbundling in favour of a convoluted scheme to provide pseudo-wholesale access to Telecom’s network for ISPs, the IT press choir sounded off in unison “No, Doug, don’t do that … it’ll never work.”

A year and a half after, Douglas Webb said the same at the Conferenz Telecommunications Conference in Auckland. The current regime does not work and there is no chance “whatsoever” of New Zealand moving up in the OECD broadband rankings over the next two to five years. Webb also points out that the majority of NZ “broadband” plans provide a mere 256kbit/s download speed, or four to six times lower than the entry level plans overseas; and of course, our broadband is only that in the downstream direction. Upstream it’s only 128kbit/s, even for the 1 and 2Mbit/s plans.

Feisty Callplus leaderene Annette Presley picked up on the above at the conference, and put her money where her mouth is: she bet Telecom’s general manager of government industry relations, Bruce Parkes, ten grand that New Zealand wouldn’t move up to spot 15 in the OECD top 30. That is, the bottom of the top half. Bruce (the spoilsport) didn’t have the gumption to take Annette up on the wager, despite going on record in May saying that by next year, New Zealand would have moved up from 22nd to 13th place. I wonder what changed Parkes’ mind in a month?

I spoke to Presley after the conference, and she contrasted the regulatory environment here with Australia where Callplus also operates. In Australia, she says, Callplus is able to get mediation through the regulator “within days” if an issue arises. In New Zealand, however, the regulatory process can grind on for years without any certainty of outcome. For example, it took five years for Presley’s company to settle the I4free case against Telecom. The case was about Telecom disconnecting the I4free free ISP customers’ dialup connections on the flimsy excuse of PSTN overloading, and the Commerce Commission joined with I4free in taking Telecom to court. Towards the end, Telecom decided on settling out of court with I4free rather then revealing the contents of Theresa Gattung’s email inbox, but what exactly did the Commerce Commission, which is the arbitrator in these matters, accomplish?

Likewise, the Commerce Commission started investigating Telecom in 1999 for reselling data tails for less than wholesale rates. In March 2004, it said it would take Telecom to court over the matter — but did anything come out of it? The 0867 dial-up debacle has been dragging on for a similar amount of time, making both cases completely pointless to pursue because neither technology is relevant anymore. Smaller ISPs mauled by Telecom’s monopoly power can’t just sit around for five years while the regulator twiddles its thumbs.

To be fair to Webb and his team, they are hamstrung by a Telecommunications Act that, despite government protestations to the contrary, only serves to limit competition and not promote it — as we’ve seen. There is also no real political support within the two major parties to take on Telecom, which further puts the brakes on the regulator’s efforts.

National’s track record shows that it did nothing in the past to foster telecommunications competition. Maurice Williamson, who may become the Communications Minister again, appears more concerned about Telecom’s shareholders than his constituents. When he was given the shadow communications portfolio last year, he told the Dominion Post that he was against unbundling, which would "impinge on the property rights of Telecom's shareholders". His boss Don Brash thinks increasingly invasive Government regulation is to be blamed for Telecom cutting annual capital investment in New Zealand by half a billion.

Labour, on the other hand, seems to think that the Telecommunications Act just needs a little bit of tweaking to allow for faster process and, of course, to give it some teeth as the sight of the powerless Commerce Commission gumming at a grinning Telecom is just a tad too provocative – hence the review of the Act, currently (slowly) underway.

If you look through the Hansard transcripts, it’s evident that there is very little debate around the issue. Instead, you will see some strange statements from Paul Swain, who thinks that New Zealanders can now choose their residential phone provider thanks to the Government’s regulatory efforts.

In fact, TelstraClear’s Homeplan, which Swain helped launch, is just Telecom phone lines resold. TelstraClear gets a whopping 2% of the customer’s monthly $40 line rental, or a staggering 80¢. How’s that for a competition incentive?

The unlikely pair championing the communications cause in the House is NZ First’s Winston Peters and the Greens’ Sue Kedgley. Peters, for example, has asked if the decision to scrap the LLU came after a meeting between Woosh Wireless and Telecom, labelling it “collusion”. Kedgley has displayed a pretty good understanding of inconvenient details such as Telecom’s broadband being too slow to rate as such.

That’s about it though. Apart from a little needling by minority parties, Telecom has nothing to fear from our elected representatives. It’s official.

- Commissioner puts the heat on Telecom

- Judge insists on equal access for free Internet providers

“Telecom lawyer Jack Hodder was concerned that, with April school holidays beginning, more users would sign up to the free service and stay online longer.”

The uncorrected Hansard transcripts

Use Google to search the transcripts with the site:uncorrectedtranscripts.govt.nz directive, because there is no search engine on the government site.

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