It was not my intention to go out into the real world to grow tomatoes unencumbered by email, internet access, games, instant messaging and newsgroups, but my hard drive made me. On the very last day of my working year the damned thing popped its clogs and left me marooned in the real world. It was not pretty.
We weren't taking a holiday, you see. My wife worked through the break with only the stat days off and I was going to spend my days immersed in all things electronic. I'd agreed to write a 50,000 word novel in November and failed miserably, so those three weeks would have been a good chance to catch up.
Instead I spent three weeks with Teletext for news updates instead of my normal channels of information (two browsers open and running at all times, email alerts, ICQ and Messenger as well as text messages to my cellphone) and daytime TV for entertainment instead of Shogun: Total Warlord and Return to Castle Wolfenstein.
I was not a happy camper, although I am now the proud owner of a pair of Mojave sunglasses, which aren't just for reflecting excess light but are in fact a powerful personal statement. In my case that statement is: "bored witless". (No, of course, I didn't buy them.)
Speaking of being out of the loop, it seems Telecom and the minister of communications Paul Swain have tried to slip one by us while we were dozing in the late afternoon sun.
Among the 800 emails I've had to wade through on my return were a couple from Swain's office and from Telecom about how happy they both are about the Kiwi Share.
The Kiwi Share Obligation (KSO), which controlled Telecom's ability to charge users what it wants, has finally been killed off and replaced with the prosaically named Telecommunications Service Obligations Deed (TSO). It outlines what Telecom can and can't do with its local loop and includes things like free local calls for residential customers and making sure rural customers aren't charged more than urbanites for the same service.
Internet callers are split off from voice callers for the first time in the form of a "local residential dial-up data service". Fax calls and "local free-calling for standard internet calls" are governed by this clause and they are to remain free for residential customers.
However, Telecom can specify which numbering scheme to use to make internet calls, which basically means 0867 and 0873 prefixes for all. On the surface this shouldn't be a problem since Telecom can't charge for those calls, but for those of us who remember when 0867 reared its ugly head in the first place, the issue was about Telecom's interconnection agreement with Clear rather than any problems with overloading of the network.
Telecom and Clear had signed an agreement that meant each company paid the other for calls that terminated on their network. By early 1999 Telecom found it would have to pay Clear around $14 million because of all the Clear customers making calls to Telecom numbers to access the internet. So Telecom introduced 0867 prefix numbers to "better manage the load". Coincidentally, new number prefixes weren't included in the interconnection agreement, so sorry Clear but Telecom won't be paying you anything any time soon.
It all ended in tears with the Commerce Commission stepping in and saying it would take Telecom to court over its anti-competitive behaviour. Now the right to decide what numbering range users must dial is entirely in Telecom's hands.
So what, you say? Once voice over IP (VoIP) comes into play, Telecom isn't going to get another penny of my hard earned cash.
Well, think again. Standard internet calls, according to the TSO, specifically cover uses of the internet that are considered "generally available" before the TSO comes into effect.
The TSO goes one step further and lists a number of internet uses that aren't considered standard already and they include "Eftpos and related services", "interactive television services", any DSL or frame relay calls faster than a "standard call" (whatever that is), "video services" and, yup, you guessed it, voice over IP. How long do you think it will be before Telecom updates its terms and conditions to rule out VoIP on its internet connections?
On the plus side, Telecom will have to ensure 99% of New Zealanders can get internet access to a minimum speed. Sadly, that speed is 9.6kbit/s, the speed a 2G cellphone works at, so I imagine that will be how those rural users will be connected. Oh, and it's going to cost $100 million to upgrade the network to meet that standard.
So how was your Christmas break?