DSL: A bill too far

Telecom would have you believe that take-up of broadband is both astonishingly high and at the same time that users are not really making full use of the capabilities. Why is that, do you suppose?

Ah, bliss. I'm now officially working from home.

No more office air conditioning units squealing in alarm, no more ticking, flicking fluorescent lights to annoy me, no more howling gale whipping out of the fans on our collective PCs, no commute to work, no parking hassles. It's quiet and peaceful and I can wander in the garden or sit on the doorstep in my shorts and chat with the neighbour's dog Zinny while I wait for my calls to be returned.

I can also, apparently, make my wife cups of tea.

Of course, all this is only possibly through the miracle of modern technology -- I have a PC on my desk that was state of the art only a year ago, even if the graphics card still refuses to talk to anything, dammit; I get my calls forwarded from the office automatically, albeit with a brief delay as the system kicks them along. I have a printer, a scanner, a DVD drive and a CD writer, and, of course, I have a JetStream broadband internet link.

Broadband is what makes it all possible. Have you ever tried dialling in to a Lotus Notes server via dial-up? Ugh. It's not for the faint-hearted. Despite the impressive array of IT firepower at my disposal, without broadband the whole thing would be impossible.

But it comes at a price. In my case, that price is to instantly double the download limit on my monthly plan in just two weeks. That's right, I've gone from using around 350MB a month to using 800MB in a fortnight and I can't really account for it all.

Sure, I've downloaded about a dozen drivers and associated software for my recent adventures in upgrading my hard drive. Call it 200MB to be generous. Sure, I watch the odd movie trailer and I showed my brother the Ice Age clip when he was up for a visit, but that's not too bad.

I spend the day plugged into the wired world -- I use both IE6 and Netscape 4.75 so that if one is tied up opening The Register or BBC or whatever, the other is still free to show me Slashdot or perhaps the Sydney Morning Herald if I'm feeling the need to feel superior.

I get around 50 emails a day. I access the editorial database at work along with the contacts database and the website's database on a regular basis.

None of this is excessive use, I feel, yet if I'm not careful I'll be labelled a bad apple along with all those other terrible users who "ruin it for the normal users". You know the ones -- they download movies and music instead of simply reading text-only sites. They buy software online instead of going to a shop and picking up a foolish amount of packaging. They're the ones being targeted over on the broadband-lite JetStart for using their connections to the full potential. Ironically, Telecom would also have you believe that take-up of broadband is both astonishingly high and at the same time that users are not really making full use of the capabilities. Why is that, do you suppose?

I've also entered a new economic world -- one in which I don't buy the local paper, but instead read it "for free" online. In fact, it costs me (or, rather, someone else) money, but that money doesn't go to the publisher but to the telco. Should there perhaps be some kind of rebate going back to the top websites from the telco for all the traffic they bring in? Could be an interesting model to pursue.

As it happens I may have to switch to JetStart simply so I can continue to work at home, because once this expense claim hits the accounts department I fully expect all the lights and sirens at work to go off and to be escorted into a small room we keep at the rear of the building for such "discussions". At the same time, across town I expect similar lights and bells to sound at Telecom as they realise they've got yet another user who is willing to actually use JetStream the way it's always marketed, and in doing so will help keep Theresa and co in office supplies for another six months.

Meanwhile, out there in the rest of the world, BT has slashed the price of wholesale DSL and Telstra has raised the price twice in as many months. Clearly the model is still under development and clearly the telcos are still struggling to work out how best to make DSL fly. At the same time it's also clear that the end user will be paying the bill until it's all sorted out.

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

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