Broadband, take two

Telecom is going to get serious about broadband this winter. I know this because I was at the press conference announcing it.

Telecom is going to get serious about broadband this winter. I know this because I was at the press conference announcing it.

Although light on detail, the announcement laid out a five-fold path that includes a marketing campaign, new pricing structure, better services and support and more content and applications aimed at the broadband user.

Let's start with the marketing campaign. It's about time. As I've said in the past, there have been a number of disjointed ad campaigns that haven't really even explained what JetStream is. The current TV ad with the two stoners in front of a webcam is awful and should go the way of the TM campaign over at Telecom Mobile.

How much of an ad campaign will there be? It probably won't be on the scale of BT in the UK, which has just stumped up around $90 million for a new broadband campaign across all media. Telecom's effort here must be mass market and have broad appeal. IT is everywhere these days, and anyone who's not already joined the fray isn't coming. This means there are no newbies -- even my mother knows what a firewall is and is happy to send me tips on getting photos of her granddaughter past the defences (hint: wait till the searchlights are just moving away from you).

Content and applications are doubly important because the current model (surf faster, always connected) just isn't sufficiently compelling for many potential users. Having Telecom become a content provider is one option, though I'd rather see it opening up the doors to all and sundry. I guess it has to lead the charge on this one since nobody has come forward yet to offer broadband specific services.

Better support is a no-brainer and something Telecom has been talking about this since it first launched its JetStream product. Its online usage meter is the bare-bones minimum you'd expect and Telecom has said it will introduce new tools for users to better manage their connections.

A new pricing structure is really the main unknown. It should better reflect the uses people have for broadband access.

One of the trickier problems with Telecom's current pricing model is that if you use the service you end up in debt up to your eyeballs. Take online gaming. Players send and receive hundreds of megabytes of data in any given session -- it wouldn't take too long before they were well past their traffic limit for the month and climbing into the red ink territory of 20 cents per megabyte. Telecom realised this wasn't a viable model early on: any JetStream gamer can log in (via quite a clumsy method, I should point out) and play without incurring traffic charges. This is a good idea and will no doubt become the basis for the new pricing structure. Instead of taking up JetStream 500, you could sign up for JetStream Gamer or JetStream Movies or whatever. The issue there will be one of multiple use on the same connection. At the moment if I want to check my email and surf the net at home, nobody else can use my connection to play games -- the system doesn't allow for us all to be logged on at the same time doing different things. That will have to be sorted if DSL is to become the ubiquitous household connection.

The traffic limits themselves need seriously reassessing. I would change all those megabyte limits to gigabytes and be done with it, but I can't see that happening. The current levels are tiny compared with services overseas (one UK ISP recently came under fire for daring to limit its users to only 1GB of traffic per day. I am allowed 1GB of traffic a month under my current JetStream plan), but any change in those will have to be partnered with a change in Telecom's wholesale structure for reselling the service to other ISPs. JetStream Starter, with its set price per month, has been the bane of many an ISPs billing cycle as users clock up gigabytes of traffic that the ISP ends up paying for.

Setting prices more in tune with user expectation will be the true test of Telecom's resolve on this one. Get it right and the broadband market will explode. Get it wrong and the whole thing will collapse.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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