- Nasty case of ULL
- all of a dither
- sympathy for a script kiddie
- Nasty case of ULL
ULL isn't a communicable disease, although it could be, but is a symptom of a greater malaise - governmental stupidity.
Back when the world's governments decided to stick to their knitting, focus on the job at hand and do what they do best (presumably they didn't mean eat out at the taxpayer's expense but you can never be too sure with governments), they sold off the nations' silverware to a snake oil salesman who offered them a cheap rate for it.
It wasn't just here - it was everywhere. Among the silver granny flogged off were some useless bits, some old bits and, hello, what's this? a local loop.
The local loop is the very-expensive-to-build network of phone lines that connects you with me and you and you and you. No company can really afford to duplicate the damned thing so whoever owns the original one has a bit of a jewel in their crown.
So it is that various governments have said "well, actually, we shouldn't have sold it off but we're not allowed to use that nasty word 'nationalise' because the World Bank says it's a bad thing so we're going to unbundle the loop instead". Nice.
What does unbundling mean? Well, basically, that anyone can come along, stick their own equipment in the exchange and make use of the lines. They'll have to pay, of course, but at a wholesale rate.
Who's doing it? Of the OECD countries (I nearly typed companies then. Corporate cyberpunk here we come) only New Zealand and Mexico have yet to do it.
Has it worked? Well, not entirely. That's not to say it can't but companies like British Telecom have made it as unpleasant as possible for other companies to use unbundled lines. Telstra in Australia fought it tooth and nail for as long as possible and Telecom here is resisting with all its might.
Which is odd - because according to TelstraClear head Rosemary Howard, everyone wins when you unbundle.
Her theory goes like this. The market is hardly growing at a rate we're all happy with. There's no competition to drive down costs, there's no competition to drive up choice. Nobody can compete with the incumbent because they can't build a new national network as cheaply as the incumbent can run their existing network.
If the network is unbundled then competition will increase. If competition increases then prices will come down and millions of users will jump onto the bandwagon, in our case the DSL bandwagon.
That's a good thing in the short term because the lack of broadband is a bad thing.
In the long term having everyone on DSL is not so hot because DSL isn't all that fast. If you're going to be doing multiple things with your broadband line, like watch TV, make voice calls, play games, surf the net, make video conference calls and all the rest, you need proper broadband and for that you need fibre.
But that's a way off yet - when the majority of users are still on dial-up, even 512 Kbit/s is a huge step up.
But I digress. The lack of broadband is affecting not only end users and other telcos, it's also affecting the economy and Telecom itself, says Howard.
The economy is affected because broadband would bring in an additional $4 billion or 3% of GDP. Howard bases this on an Australian report that says similar things about its economy. Having read Gartner reports on the TCO of owning a PC, I'm a tad sceptical about such reports but that's OK. Maybe it's right, maybe it's not. The economy is a big thing and there's no way of delivering a control group economy to compare with.
The other point is interesting, though - unbundling, says Howard, will be good for Telecom. Telecom currently is fighting tooth and nail against the move because it will mean cheaper broadband and that will cannibalise its data market. Telecom's been charging like a wounded bull for decades and companies have been paying because they need it. Cheap broadband will slash that retail market to ribbons.
But Howard says Telecom will more than recoup its losses there in the wholesale market and by having more residential and SME businesses jump into broadband at the low end of the market.
She might just be right. SME makes up the lion's share of businesses in New Zealand and they're effectively shut out of high-end broadband offerings. To get all those two-and three-person outfits into the broadband world would really boost things along.
The telecommunications commissioner has signalled the outcome of his review into unbundling by declaring an extension of the review. The local loop, you see, officially consists only of the bit of wire that connects the end user with the local exchange. It doesn't cover all that good stuff from the exchange to the telco - they call it backhaul - and the commissioner has just extended his own brief to cover this area.
This says two things to me: one, the original legal definition of local loop is pretty much out the window and always has been and that the commissioner is seriously considering recommending a mixed environment with some wholesaling of retail products as we have today and some unbundling.
We will be able to tell for sure soon - his draft report is due out by September 18 and the final report goes to the government by the end of the year.
The government doesn't, of course, have to do anything the commissioner says. He can recommend sending the army in to take over the Mayoral Drive Exchange all he likes, but the government will weigh what's been proposed against the likely effects on its votes. That's the way of the world.
The best thing we can all do is see what's in the report and lobby our MPs accordingly. I've never lobbied an MP before so that'll be fun. I've badgered the odd minister before but that's not the same thing.
- all of a dither
Dither is such a lovely word. It's very English, like crumpet, kerfuffle or trundle, and so emotive. Best of all, it's very descriptive. It's not that someone has put something off, or merely hesitated. To say they've dithered implies a high degree of unconscious incompetence and a lack of backbone or wherewithal (another wonderful word).
And so it is that the battle against the Amazon one-click patent saw a fair amount of dithering but finally something positive has emerged.
The patent, for those of you who (like myself) can't be bothered with the whole business process patent nonsense, covers the awe-inspiring idea that you can patent buying something with a single click of the mouse.
Now if only you could, that would be one thing. But have you ever gone to a website and been able to buy a product by clicking the mouse once? No, and you never will either. First there's the searching, then there's the comparing with other sites, then there's the filling in of the forms, then there's the currency conversion process (and another patent too, by the way) and if you're really lucky they'll actually deliver it to a non-US address.
So that annoys me. I might be willing to accept the patent if I could log on to Amazon and point my mouse and say "I'll buy that thanks" and then log off again. Maybe.
As it is, Amazon is busy applying for a patent to cover its imaginary one-click process and as luck would have it, in New Zealand there's a three-month period during which any organisation or person opposed to the patent can challenge it.
Fortunately, someone has. Computer Society stalwart Ian Mitchell has lead the call to arms and managed to marshal his forces and other military metaphors and put together a challenge. Phew.
That it was all done with only 10 days remaining in the three-month period is not due to dithering, says Mitchell, but rather to the length of time it takes to stir incorporated societies and get them to their feet. Rather like the Ents, incorporated societies have a lengthy preamble to any actual action and in this case they almost had to sit down again before they stood up.
Fortunately, there's a grace period allowed that extends the three months by a month, for a small fee; that's been paid, so the challenge now is to find some prior art that shows someone else was doing one-click shopping before Amazon. And they've got to have been doing it in New Zealand.
Sadly that's going to be a big ask. Still, it needs to be done so if you're sitting there reading this thinking "hang on, we used to do something similar to that back in the old country" then for pity's sake let someone know.
In order to be prepared for the next time this happens, because you know there'll be a next time, InternetNZ is hoping to establish a research fellowship with Victoria University. The fellowship will be in "cyber law" and will allow someone to work full time on these thorny questions so as to avoid the problem of having no opinion when it matters most.
InternetNZ has had this problem in the past, with the Crimes Amendment Bill, and is taking it upon itself to lead the charge on such issues in the future.
Of course it wouldn't be an InternetNZ proposal without some stoush or other surfacing and this is no different. A technical whoopsie meant the proposal was published to the InternetNZ website for all too see and former treasurer Steven Heath has expressed astonishment that the proposal is so far along the track to being signed off without the membership having been either informed or consulted, especially given the price tag of $250,000 over three years.
InternetNZ president Keith Davidson assures me the members will be consulted before any deal is signed, but says the society has had numerous similar proposals fall by the wayside in the past. Davidson doesn't want to encumber the members with excess proposals that never see the light of day. Fair enough, but given the past excessive shroud of darkness that was pulled over society affairs, I think it probably would pay to discuss every single thing in the open for the next couple of years, regardless of how minor.
- sympathy for a script kiddie
I don't often feel sorry for virus writers or script kiddies - they are scum and usually cause more trouble than they're worth.
But I watched the footage of some state attorney in the US talking about "sending a message to internet hackers" and all I could think was: you poor dumb SOB. They're going to throw the book at that guy who clearly lives in his mother's basement and for what - he didn't write the original Blaster virus. As far as I can tell all he did to create Blaster.B was use a text editor to write his own nickname on the virus and send it out again.
Now admittedly that's not the smartest trick in the book, is it? Let's face it, coming along after a bank robbery and writing "I was Here" on the wall isn't the biggest crime imaginable and certainly deserves the modern equivalent of a clip round the ear, but federal penitentiary isn't really the answer.
I mean, what's next? If we target this kid as being culpable shouldn't we go after the system admins who didn't patch their systems? What about the folk who downloaded the virus? And how about Microsoft for allowing the security flaw to go out into production in the first place?
I'd much rather the authorities were going after the original writers or, even better, whoever's behind the SoBig family of fun - now there's a group of people that need locking up.
Of course, viruses aren't the pest they used to be thanks to the anti-virus software the telcos are deploying across their ISPs. It's nice not to have such a nasty in my in-box any more. Besides, I'm all tied up with spam at the moment and can't spare a thought for attachments.
Spam is becoming a real pest - apparently it accounts for half of all email traffic these days. The good news, however, is that the CEO of Brightmail (which claims to be the largest of the anti-spam filtering companies) is confident we can crack the problem in the next three years.
Unfortunately he sees next year being the peak, so expect those in-boxes to remain at bursting point for some time.