Narrow pipes choke NZ open source

Only having expensive low-speed internet access stunts the growth of open source software development.

Most of the noise surrounding the artificial dearth of sensible internet connectivity alternatives in New Zealand has focused on the mercantile side of things, which of course is important enough. It's worth noting, however, that only having expensive low-speed internet access also stunts the growth of open source software development.

Although Stallman & Co used to send out tapes with source code via mail When It All Began, the internet has taken over as the meta-repository of open source. Stuff is stored there, distributed via it and hacked upon across IP packets. Data is exchanged over the internet, and thus, ideas.

Pity then that New Zealand open sourcers even in 2004 are being hobbled by the lack of affordable fast internet connections. To start with, it's hard not to notice that with few exceptions (the New Zealand FreeBSD and Debianites spring to mind, plus Tony Wicks' Red Hat mirror), you hardly ever see a “.nz” link to download from.

As national data is free (for non-Telecom users) and fast, local mirrors are great. Australians have huge repositories like AARNET and Planet Mirror where you can find just about anything under the sun. Despite the Southern Cross Cable and more than adequate national data backbones, there is nothing like either in New Zealand, however.

The OSS Mirrors page on the New Zealand Open Source website lists five links. Two seem to be down, and the rest are pretty small compared to what users in other countries have access to. The NZLUG site lists a few more local ones, but notes that AARNET's mirror is the place, albeit at international data rates.

Although Chris Maffey, who runs www.openoffice.org.nz, is in Auckland, he is hosting in the UK. Maffey says the reason is simple: money. For a mere GBP22 a month, Maffey gets a Cobalt RAQ3 plus 25GB of data traffic. In New Zealand, Maffey estimates the same set up would cost him around $1000 a month.

Of course, I'm not slagging off the few hardy souls that somehow manage to run FTP and HTTP mirrors, mailing lists and web-based open source resources in New Zealand. I am, however, growling at our myopic government that not only doesn't fund a local AARNET but also allows a privatised telco monopoly to put the brakes on New Zealand open source development.

Telecom New Zealand, which has publicly stated that content will drive fast internet access uptake, could have earned some easy and cheap brownie points here. But, apart from the now-dead JetStream Games realm (where data magically cost nothing and flowed at full DSL rates), it’s provided exactly nothing apart from high bills and further frustration.

I don't see how this will change in the foreseeable future.

Saarinen is an Auckland IT consultant and IDG contributor. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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