Unrepentant Xtra head sticks by ISP's record

Telecom Xtra is "probably New Zealand's finest Internet service today", its network is "hauling ass" and it has yet to receive due credit for doing the local Internet market "an awful lot of good".

Telecom Xtra is “probably New Zealand’s finest Internet service today”, its network is “hauling ass” and it has yet to receive due credit for doing the local Internet market “an awful lot of good”.

Such is the aggressive, upbeat message from Xtra’s general manager, Chris Tyler, back in the hotseat after successive overseas sales forays during which his project made all the wrong kind of headlines.

Anyone who expected Tyler to proffer an olive branch to Xtra’s arch-rival Voyager on his recent return from the US would have been disappointed. Barely back home, he took the most precipitate action yet in the battle between the two companies.

Tyler demanded that Voyager cease running finger on Xtra’s mail database, stop spamming Xtra customers, and destroy the database information it had already obtained. He backed up his demands by blocking all access between Xtra and Voyager and issuing a press release headed “Voyager Nabbed!”. And, no, he’s not sorry.

In fact, Tyler has trouble understanding why anyone would think Xtra stubbed its toe over the now-infamous security hole, or that he’s the bad guy in the Voyager saga. (To see a transcript of Russell Brown's interview with Chris Tyler, go to this week's Friday Fry-Up.)

“I would say that I am absolutely surprised and disappointed in the way that the media have worked very hard to try and turn this into an Oprah Winfrey-type event, when we as a high-quality ISP and professional organisation worked to our best efforts to react and manage the security issue quite well. It took a couple of days to turn around what was a tremendously overblown identification of a weakness that we had in the service.

“With regard to the blocking, my customer base was inappropriately spammed with inappropriate messages. We felt that that was a very well-managed way for us to protect our customers from what was clearly something that goes against the grain of the Internet. And I’m very suprised that the source of those efforts was not characterised appropriately in terms of how we within the Internet community expect our fellow operators and members of this society to operate.

“We didn’t take any action to provoke anything whatsoever, other than compete fairly in the marketplace. We feel that we delivered a great deal of value in the Internet marketplace. Take a look at where pricing was, relative to where pricing is today, based on our desire to stimulate a market and provide a good, competititve quality product and value proposition. We think that we’ve done the market an awful lot of good and we’ve never received any credit for that.

“In fact, because we’re a very large company, the media has taken a perspective that we should be held to a higher standard than any other company in the marketplace and I frankly think that’s inappropriate. I run a small, start-up business unit that’s treated as an ISP by Telecom.”

In the wake of Voyager’s full-page print ads, which made aggressive and unflattering comparisons between itself and Xtra, Xtra’s own advertsing strategy has changed to one which directly addresses its customers.

“I wanted to get across to our customers that we take responsibility for providing the good quality service that they expect,” says Tyler. “And I felt a need to give them the facts versus the comments that were not so factual. I guess there were two objectives--one was to very clearly state that while we were experiencing abnormal problems because of the growth that we were also committed to offering a high-quality service and resolving those problems very quickly.”

“And today I’m happy to tell you that I think those problems have been resolved. We’ve got huge new capacity provisioned from a circuit perspective, we’re generating lots of calls to the helpdesk and we’re trying to get new helpdesk support in place. They’re doing a great job, people are getting through. And the performance of the network--I don’t know if you’ve been on it the last day or so, but it is hauling ass. It’s running better than it ever has.”

Some might ask why Xtra has struck so much trouble with dial-in access, mail delivery, help-desk capacity and general performance after boasting that its network was configured to handle 50,000 customers, rather than the 10-20,000 causing the problems.

“I don’t think anybody was told we had the capacity for 50,000 users. We had put a network in place based on our first-year business case and we didn’t expect that we’d grow to this level of users so quickly,” says Tyler.

Tyler insists the cause of Xtra’s problems--apart from its competitors--has been “not as much a resource issue as it was an infrastructure issue. Infrastructure in terms of being able to get the provisioning done quickly enough to keep up with the growth of new subscribers coming on board, as well as the time that they utilise the ports that they log into.

“Secondly, the software operating infrastructure that allows for authentication, metering et cetera, those systems started to get burdened with the amount of utilisation on them and just weren’t performing up to speed. So that made connections more difficult--we recognised a few months ago that our systems were getting stressed, so the outputs of what you’ve seen have not been a reaction to the issues that we’ve run across in the last couple of weeks.”

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