- Scaring the horses
- The longest day
- Thumb on the scales
- Scaring the horses
Reaching its clammy hand out of the pit from whence it was cast, the idea that ISPs should be responsible for all the content that crosses their servers has arisen to moan and groan and tremble around the halls of power.
ISPs have quite a bit of traffic across their servers. Even relatively small ISPs. It comes from their customers typing in URLs in web browser location bars and requesting the information from other servers around the world.
Some of this information is less than pleasant and some of it is highly illegal under New Zealand law. Since the ISPs "allow" such information to be passed across their privately owned networks, they should be responsible for it, or so the theory goes.
The logistics of this are staggering. Filtering for the unmentionable can take many forms - from checking the pigment of any image being transmitted (too much pink - must be a naked person! Don't worry about Asian or African porn in that case) to building black-lists of blocked sites or white-lists of permissible sites.
All told it's a nightmare of slow data traffic, hits and misses. It's like trying to stop magazine publishers from being defamatory by holding the company that makes the paper liable for everything printed on it.
United Future MP Paul Adams stood up in parliament during a debate on whether the chief censor should have a deputy or not and asked a supplementary question about whether ISPs would be directed to block all porn on their servers. The question was struck out because it was considered to be off topic, but the question is out there and there will be those that think it's a good idea.
Fortunately the Internet Safety Group isn't one of them. I had dismissed the ISG as a bunch of crackpots with no idea about the internet but with all these statistics about how many children are lured from their safe warm homes by paedophiles. It turns out that while the ISG certainly does do research into such things, it does a lot more than that. Journalists tend to call on the ISG for obvious, over the top, sensational stuff about paedophiles. (Did anyone else laugh out loud watching the Sunday reporter - a middle-aged man - pretend to be a teenage girl so he could draw out other middle-aged men pretending to be teenage boys? Now that's television).
Liz Butterfield, director of the ISG, says forget filtering and look at education instead, and I couldn't agree more.
And while we're on the distasteful subject of paedophiles, why are we trying to stop them using the internet? I've spoken with police and with department of internal affairs people in the past on this and the one thing they all seem to agree on is that the internet has drawn all of the dirty raincoat types out of the woodwork. No longer are they importing magazines that generally make it through customs unnoticed, they are instead logging on and leaving a trail of bytes a mile wide in their path. They're easier to find, easier to catch and easier to convict. What more can you ask?
- The longest day
Two days. Can you imagine it. Sitting in conference with Telecom in the blue corner and TelstraClear in the red corner for two whole days.
Fortunately, they held it in Wellington so I didn't have to go. Damn, eh?
The arguments being presented to the commissioner were all about how much each telco could charge for toll bypass - commonly known as the interconnection payment.
It's a bit murky really - Telecom and TelstraClear both called in the commissioner claiming they'd reached an impasse in negotiations and needed an outsider to sort it out. No sooner had the commissioner released a draft ruling than the two companies mysteriously reached a commercial agreement on practically everything, except this one point.
So while a two-day conference had been put aside for discussions ranging from number portability for toll-free numbers to whether "bill and keep" was better than "bill and ben", the whole thing was agreed on and removed from the agenda before the event kicked off.
That left this darned bothersome issue of price. It goes like this: Telecom was charging 2.6 cents a minute for TelstraClear to connect to its network. TelstraClear wasn't paying it because the contract ran out months ago and it claimed it was bullied into the payment in the first instance. The commissioner reckons a rate of between 1.21 to 1.42 cents a minute is more applicable and so the companies have spent two whole days putting their points of view.
I find it amusing that the commissioner, Douglas Webb, was one of those responsible for drawing up the very first agreement between Clear and Telecom back in the early 90s, so in part this is a mess he's helped create!
Telecom would have you believe that charging as little as 1.42 cents a minute will result in untold damage to the network.
"Telecom operations chief Simon Moutter paints a picture of a Telecom less likely to afford vital upgrades to its fundamental infrastructure or to satisfy its shareholders with good dividends and keep them investing, if it were handicapped with interconnect payments in the lower part of the range. There is even a veiled threat to pull out of at least parts of the telecommunications industry," writes IDG's Stephen Bell. Interesting.
TelstraClear, on the other hand, claims that Telecom all but forced it to sign on the dotted line all those years ago, has been ripped off ever since, shouldn't be forced to pay more than 0.67 cents a minute and that the commissioner did his sums wrong first time round.
If both sides are unhappy with it then it sounds to me like the commissioner is right on the money with his price range. Go Douglas.
Interesting story refuting a confused Dominion Post piece about Telecom gaining from having the interconnect rate cut ... sadly the Stuff archive has eaten the original story.
- Thumb on the scales
The JetStream usage meter is beginning to seriously annoy me. No, really. I know - I hide it well.
First of all, it's so horribly basic. It tells you how much traffic you've used in the past month and that's it. Where are all the cool tools that help me manage my connection?
Secondly, it takes burrowing through far more pages to log onto the damned thing than it should. There's this giant blank intermediary page that tells me my name for no apparent reason. Why can't I just put in my user name and password and have it tell me my usage?
Three: it seems to me to be insecure. When you type in your user name and password, you're looking at a straightforward HTTP page. It's not until you click send (thus committing your details to the ether) that it comes back with a secured HTTPS page. Telecom tells me this is okay. My security source tells me it's not.
D: How do I know the usage meter is accurate? When was it tested last? Should I trust Telecom's judgement on this or not? When I'm told I have 1000 MB of traffic, how have they measured that? Does it include those pesky extra bytes because a megabyte isn't a decimal figure? One megabyte isn't 1,000,000 bytes of course, it's 1,048,576. Since I'm paying by the byte, can I get that double checked please?
Lastly, finally and most damningly, it's almost impossible to get any information out of Telecom about the usage meter. I have to send questions in writing to an external PR company which does, I must admit, a bang up job of chasing someone down at Telecom to answer my questions. I get a written statement back, usually days later and days late, that requires some follow up question, so the whole process can take a month. I'm not exaggerating. It's a stupid way of doing business and does nobody any favours.
Today I phoned the Commerce Commission to find out who regulates things like the usage meter. Not us, I was told, although if it's a breach of the Fair Trading Act then it would be us. We're more of a regulatory body than a complaints body.
So I rang the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and spoke to the man in charge of weights and measures. Not us, he cried, for we only measure lengths, volume and weight. It would take an amendment to the act to get us to measure data traffic.
I rang the Consumers Institute and was told nobody does it. Nobody. If you have a problem with your power meter or with your insurance or banking fees, you can go to an ombudsman. If you think a telco is ripping you off for data connection charges, you're stuffed.
Is it time we looked at introducing some third-party to ensure end users are being fairly treated? Is it time we had someone we could get help from, who could ensure that the telecommunications companies are looking after us as they should? Isn't it time someone in government stood up and said "that's our department - tell me what's wrong"?