Easter, ICT ratings

The World Economic Forum's annual ranking of who did the best in information and communications technology during 2004 is out and New Zealand ended up in 21st place out of 104 countries.

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- Scratch that ICT roadblock

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There’s only one thing for it – play Stinkoman 20X6 till your fingers bleed!!!

- Scratch that ICT roadblock

The World Economic Forum’s annual ranking of who did the best in information and communications technology during 2004 is out and New Zealand ended up in 21st place out of 104 countries. Is that a good result or a bad one? I’m not sure. On the one hand, it means we’re beating a lot of bigger countries but on the other, several same-sized places are sailing past us as well. These are very rich places now as well.

I haven’t got the full report yet (you have to order it either on CD or as a book, ha) but my gut feeling tells me that the “C” in ICT is New Zealand’s weak point. Unlike other countries, we’re content with receiving rather poor network access for business and residential customers. In fact, said poor, “internet grade” service has been written into the law here. And, the minister in charge thinks there’s nothing wrong with the Telecommunications Act 2001, apart from it being a bit slow and not really having any enforcement built into it.

There’s clearly a pent-up demand for better-than-modem network access in NZ. Telecom reckons it’s selling between 900 and 1100 new wholesale DSL connections every week. It’s well on track for the 250,000 residential broadband connections at the end of 2005 in other words.

But, at the same time Telecom says it is aiming for the lowest common denominator, which is allegedly the service specification set in stone by the Commerce Commission. As we know already, this means the faster DSL plans available from today are steeply asymmetric with 1 and 2Mbit/s downstream but a maximum of 128kbit/s upstream. Telecom has also “harmonised” its Jetstream retail and wholesale DSL so that it matches UBS from this week (although existing Jetstream customers will keep the 192kbit/s upstream speed until the end of the year).

Furthermore, the service has unspecified packet loss, latency of up to one second each way (!) and there’s no mention of the contention ratios (that is, the number of customers sharing the bandwidth) so really, you have no idea what kind quality the service you’re buying has.

As DSL is the only affordable method for the vast majority of New Zealand’s small to medium-sized business to obtain fast internet access thanks to the last-mile monopoly for Telecom being left intact, you have to wonder what the Commission was thinking when it decided to neuter the pseudo-wholesale DSL like this.

There will be “business UBS” plans coming up later this year, in the 1 and 2Mbit/s flavours, but they’re exactly the same as the residential ones, albeit at a higher price. You know, just like “business” telephone lines and Jetstream DSL that run over the same network as residential services, yet cost considerably more.

How useful is a service with such a narrow upstream to businesses anyway? Internet communication goes both ways, not just downstream. Even if the UBS business customer was to download only, the 128kbit/s upstream acts as a brake there too, since it’s likely to fill up with acknowledgement packets going back to the originating server.

The price gap between a business-grade service that SMEs overseas can buy from competing ISPs and Jetstream/UBS is huge. I haven’t got exact figures, but last year I looked at a 2Mbit/s frame link delivered over G.SHDSL and was quoted $1,400 a month plus data charges. Compare that with the $100 or so a month DSL costs with the mandatory line charge to Telecom factored in and. As a quick comparison, in the UK Force9 sells a 2M SDSL (same speed up and downstream) connection for $845 plus VAT, with several cheaper alternatives available, in the major cities. No data charges either. Across the pond in Australia, which placed eleventh in the WEF survey, the situation isn’t quite as good but Pacific Internet’s business DSL plans look very good compared to what’s available here.

Business customers are also heavy users of mobile communications, and the story is the same there: they’re paying through the nose for that particular tool, compared to overseas.

If you take stock of the regulatory effort over the past decade, the only term that springs to mind is “failure”. The reality of all the self-gratulatory bluster from the government is that there is only pseudo-competition for reselling Telecom’s data and telco services in New Zealand.

Could we do better as an ICT-savvy nation by introducing a real competitive communications market? That’s the question the government is frantically ducking.

New Zealand's ICT ranking up but could do better - Computerworld

Faster residential UBS launch this Thursday - Computerworld

Force 9 business SDSL plans - F9

Pacific Internet business DSL plans - Pacific.Net

World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report

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