- But is it broadband?
- But is it broadband?
I got asked at the start of this week "what IS broadband?" and I realised I lied to the asker. Sorry about that.
I said it was high-speed internet access when really that's not it at all. High speed internet access is only part of the broadband equation - there are so many other things that broadband allows the user to do that go beyond simply being high-speed net access.
Running a virtual private network (VPN) for example. A VPN isn't about how fast you can download a file, it's about being able to access your work environment from a remote location.
The observant among you will know that I work from home these days, and to do that I use JetStream from Telecom. At IDG Communications we run Lotus Notes as our database and working environment. I can access that from home via JetStream and add stories to the database, look up contacts and get my email.
What I can't do is access all those other parts of the work LAN that could be useful - the graphics folders, the printers and so on. Why? Because they don't run on Lotus Notes and I can't VPN to the office.
Secure access for remote workers is only one thing broadband means. What about voice?
Sure, you say, I have voice already. I pay Telecom $40 a month to rent a line off them for that.
Well, that's right. But why are you paying again for JetStream and again to make toll calls? My editor lives and works in Dunedin. We spend quite a bit of time each day talking about work (honestly, it's all work talk). If we were both able to use a VPN presumably we could both use voice over IP (VoIP) to talk to each other for free. Why not - after all, this isn't cutting edge technology any more. The only reason we can't is the service level Telecom assigns to JetStream means we don't get the quality of service we need for that. We could pay more, quite a bit more, for IP.Networking but really, it wouldn't be any cheaper than what we do now.
Telecom has signed up with BCL and Fonterra to sell the regional users on broadband. Gone are the days when Telecom was trying to sell off the rural network and telling us how much it cost to keep those expensive farmers connected.
Now it's a new look Telecom and it's fighting to keep the rural customers. Why? Because the government is handing out money to regional broadband developers and already a Walker Wireless Vodafone partnership has beaten Telecom to the money in one region.
Suddenly Telecom is all over the farmer like flies on silage. It doesn't want to miss out on the government funding, but more importantly it doesn't want anyone else setting up in opposition because if that happens then farmers will have a choice and currently the farmers and those that live in rural New Zealand are being screwed in so many ways it's not funny.
Let me give you an example. Where do you live? If you picked up the phone to ring a neighbour, would you expect it to be a local call or a toll call?
In Northland there are four toll calling regions. Each region is geographical in nature. Hardly surprising, you might think, but whereas in Auckland a 100 square kilometre region will net you over a million users in your free calling area, in Northland you'll get around 1000.
The East Coast is the same. So is Canterbury or Central Otago. There are so few people there that it costs more to stay in touch.
What if an enterprising company, like Walker Wireless or UCC in Northland or the South Waikato District Council's broadband initiative came along and offered free toll calls to anyone on the same network? What would that do to Telecom's income?
So you see, Telecom has a vested interest, all of a sudden, in being the only player in the regions.
On the plus side, competition is forming in these regional areas, thanks to the kick start of Project PROBE and the initiatives of a number of councils and power companies and so on.
Interestingly, if Northland goes with a non-Telecom solution it will soon have more options for broadband delivery than residential customers in any of the main centres. There would be Telecom, the PROBE winner, the Fonterra solution and probably the other competitors for PROBE who, having done their sums, could well offer service as well.
Makes the towns and cities of New Zealand look under-serviced if you ask me.