- 13,000 customers
- Chattering classes
- 13,000 customers
It's a rare day when Ernie Newman is stuck for something to say. Honestly, not a week goes buy that I don't ring Ernie to talk about something telecommunicatively speaking. Ernie's the hard-working chief of the Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ), the champion of the broadband cause here in New Zealand.
It was a good five seconds during which I could hear Ernie's mouth opening and closing but no sounds came out. Eventually he managed splutter "I'm speechless".
I'd just told him that Telecom's numbers for JetStream residential uptake were a tad over-rated.That instead of a claimed 50,000 or so residential broadband customers, Telecom had managed to secure only 13,000 in the four years of service.
It comes down to definitions, you see. Telecom's new ad campaign for JetStream states "JetStream Starter is not broadband" in the fine print of the ads. Take a look - it's there for a couple of seconds at the end. Fair enough, too, I thought when I saw it. JetStream Starter isn't broadband. It is only just fast narrowband - it runs at a paltry 128kbit/s in both directions, making it less than any sensible definition of broadband I've heard in a long time.
Finally, Telecom has got its act together, I thought. I'm all in favour of broadband starting at 512kbit/s and going up from there, but I'll split the difference and agree that we can call JetStream Home, running at 256kbit/s, broadband. Nice to see some variation in the game.
But a thought occurred to me. If JetStream Starter isn't broadband any more, is Telecom still counting the JetStream Starter customers towards the goal of 100,000 broadband customers by the end of next year? This was part of a grand announcement back in April.
Yes, it is counting JetStream Starter customers towards the total. Even though JSS customers aren't on broadband, they are being counted as broadband customers for the big headcount. Why? Because they make up the vast majority of JetStream users signed up to date. How big, I asked, and then nearly fell off my chair.
Of the 48,350 JetStream residential customers, a whopping 73% of them are using JetStream Starter.
That's right - in the four years Telecom has been selling JetStream products it's only managed to get 13,000 customers. In the entire country. Anywhere. That's not only pathetically few, it's dangerously low as well. No wonder New Zealanders are unable to see the value of broadband - nobody's got it.
Telecom's hoping that its new price and speed offerings will drive users of JetStream Starter up to JetStream Home 256kbit/s. Roughly half of JetStream Starter users do less than 500MB of traffic in a month, says Telecom's internet marketing head, Chris Thompson. He's hopeful they'll all make the jump to JetStream Home 500, that offers twice the speed and costs slightly less.
Maybe they will, but the advantage of JetStream Starter is that the price is capped and the traffic limits are so high (5GB a month of international traffic; national doesn't get counted at all on Xtra's plan - other ISPs offer more) nobody cares to watch their traffic. On a 500MB plan that includes every upload and download and all traffic, national or international, you've got to watch it like a hawk.
Telecom's also introduced a new tab on its Xtra website - the broadband tab. This includes a collection of Kiwi short films, news clips from One News (something of a coup there for Nzoom, which has ousted TV3's news clips), radio broadcasts from BFM and George FM in Auckland and game servers for the fraggers among us.
These are all great services - I loved watching The Lounge Bar again - but they're hardly the ultimate broadband experience we were promised. I could find most of the movie trailers and music I wanted already on the web (www.apple.com has a great selection of trailers and if they can't be found there, I go to www.comingsoon.net. BankDirect has been playing music off its website for years) and the JetStream Games realm doesn't charge me for traffic whereas the new game servers will.
In April Telecom's operations chief, Simon Moutter, spoke of a new world of broadband with pricing and content, applications and service to match.
He said, "By the middle of this year, Telecom will have launched a new range of fixed line broadband packages and services aimed at meeting specific customer needs at a competitive price. For instance, more flexible plans to cater for people who are heavy downloaders or are keen gamers, or only access New Zealand content."
Instead we have a new entry-level speed, a reduction in ISP charges of $10 a month and nothing, not a thing, for the heavy users who are already paying for the service.
I'm all for bringing new users into the market but what about those that are already paying? They're not asking for the world, they're not asking you to give away content or bandwidth, but they are after some choice and a fair deal. I see neither from the new announcements and I think that's why Telecom has only 13,000 residential broadband users and why it will never get to 100,000.
- chattering classes
I'll let you in on a little secret: I've never been in a chat room in my life. Honestly. Well, mostly, anyway. I was on the receiving end of a couple of chat sessions once at Xtra's request, in the lead up to Y2K, answering questions for a night or two. That was fun. I've also badgered a certain minister of communications in his one-night chat session on the Labour Party's yoof site, just to make sure it was him.
But other than that, I don't chat. I don't use IRC, I don't hang out in virtual bars and I don't know anyone who does. Well, I don't know anyone who does and tells me about it at any rate.
So when I got the call asking me if I knew anything about Microsoft shutting down chat rooms I had to say, happily, no. Sadly, I've had to find out a bit more about it since then.
It turns out, you see, that nasty men pick up innocent children by "chatting" to them "online" in a virtual "cyber pit of unpleasantness" and then "lure them" into unsavoury activities.
Apparently this happens so often that Microsoft has taken it upon itself to shut down all the free, user-created unmoderated chat rooms on most of its various MSN sites around the world.
Various folk are accepting this at face value (thank you mainstream press), others are crying foul and calling for First Amendment Rights to be upheld (thank you founding fathers of another nation) and others are saying Won't Someone Think of the Children.
Frankly I'm tired of Thinking of the Children. It's right up there with the whole "it's to defend us against Terrorism" threat - it's not washing any more. I think we should introduce a law that says you can only use the line once every decade and beyond that you're in big trouble.
Does anyone else remember the TV expose on chat rooms that was on earlier this year? In a ludicrous moment only television could produce, a 40-something male journalist pretended to be a teenage girl so 40-something male perverts could pretend to be teenage boys. They then chatted each other up and arranged to meet in a park.
The funniest bit was when the TV folk had to hire a teenage girl to pretend to be the 40-something reporter pretending to be the teenage girl from the chat room so he/she could meet the 40-something pervert pretending to be the teenage boy.
At least we can thank Microsoft for protecting us from such stories in the future.
Other than that, it has the whiff of marketing about it. Microsoft is shutting down the costly servers, those that might lead to law suits, and they're maintaining the moderated ones but reducing the number of moderators (the Kiwi sites will be moderated by someone in Sydney. I can only hope they're all teenagers because otherwise the whole thing will look quite silly). They're maintaining the paid sites so parents who are well off can be assured that their children are only chatting to other children of wealthy parents. Thank the gods.
And what of those that used the chat rooms? Where will they go? Well, it's not as if there aren't dozens of other places to meet online - and as Chris Barton points out in a Herald column this week, Microsoft provides 100 million users with MSN Messenger wherein they can chat to their heart's content. If they were serious about it, surely they'd shut that down. The argument that it will reduce spam is just too stupid to give any air time to.
Anyway, I've chatted enough. On with the weekend, I say!