FryUp: Telco rollercoaster: vote early, vote often

Top Stories: - Telecommunications: where she stops, nobody knows! - Technology comes to politics

Top Stories:

- Telecommunications: where she stops, nobody knows!

- Technology comes to politics

- Telecommunications: where she stops, nobody knows!

The rollercoaster ride that is the world's telecommunications market continues to offer thrills and chills, not to mention the odd spill, this week.

Someone once told me that it isn't in anybody's best interest to let corporations own and operate vital infrastructure like electricity lines, roads, rail and telephone lines. The costs of maintaining and running such networks in areas where it's not economic to do so are so high that no corporation should waste its time doing so. Governments are designed for such things - providing services to areas where the cost is too high, be it a region, like the East Coast, or perhaps a time zone, like before the commercial imperative is established.

I'm inclined to agree after talking to the guys over in Gisborne and now I wonder whether companies can be trusted to run networks even when they are in viable areas.

WorldCom was the second largest long-distance phone company in the US. It owned MCI, a huge ISP, and even a chunk of the Southern Cross Cable. It had branches around the world and bought up our very own Voyager ISP in 1999, although it immediately set off in the wrong direction on the wrong foot by dumping its entire residential customer base.

Now it seems it has Andersen-itis, that plague that's afflicting US corporations whereby someone comes in and tells you how to hide all your money. The trouble is, when you're not making any money it can really whip round and bite you on the arse.

But how do telcos not make money? Forget about share prices for a moment; for decades they had us paying tens of thousands of times what it actually cost for a phone call. They have lines in place that only need maintenance rather than to be completely built from scratch. They charge us by the minute, by the megabyte and have us by the short and curlies because these days if you want to be in business or even safely in your own home you need a phone line.

Closer to home, Telecom is having some bother with its JetStream usage meter. For those that don't have DSL, users buy a service that includes a set amount of traffic - 500 MB a month, 1 GB a month, that sort of thing. Go over that limit and you're paying 20 cents per megabyte so users are told to watch closely to make sure they aren't going to end up with a whopper of a bill each month.

To do this they use the JetStream usage meter, which refreshes constantly to tell you how much you've trundled through as you potter about the internet. It measures traffic to and from your connection but it seems there are a number of customers who believe it doesn't do it terribly well.

On some days it will show less usage than the day before and this seems to be happening around the end of each monthly billing period. One user rang the help desk because he'd checked his usage on the last day of the cycle, seen he had 600 MB left on his account and downloaded patches and upgrades – a sensible move. However the next day he discovered he'd spent 300 MB on the new cycle. The help desk allegedly told him never to bother checking on the first day of the cycle as the meter won't be accurate but Telecom's marketing manager Graham Walmsley says this shouldn't be the case and the meter will update itself every two hours.

Aardvark's Bruce Simpson raises an interesting point: shouldn't there be someone checking Telecom's measurements of our usage? The ministry of economic development has a weights and measures division - surely someone like that should be involved? Otherwise, what's to stop Telecom putting its thumb on the scale, so to speak, even if it's just a little bit each month?

Telecom has plans to introduce a new type of meter, one that sits on the user's PC, I understand, so that will give you an up-to-the-minute read out of your usage. Hopefully that will be an accurate one.

Alleged fraud at US telco giant - IDGNet

Telecom on alert for fallout - NZ Herald

Telecom's DSL usage meter under fire - IDGNet

Who's Testing The Net_Traffic Meters? - Aardvark

- Technology comes to politics

It wasn't long after I started at IDG that we had a terrible time trying to find out about the budget online. There simply wasn't any attempt to let the waiting world know about the budget details on the day, let alone as it happened.

Sadly, those days are long gone. We can be badgered, bullied, poked and prodded by politicians of all sorts without even leaving the comfort of our email inbox it seems.

I've been ringing the parties for a bit of a chat about their use of technology in the upcoming election race. All of them are quite happy to talk about it in the broadest sense and one or two can actually get down to detail about it, which is astonishing.

Sadly, some of the parties are, well, unable to talk about their use of technology because they don't appear to have any. Others seem to think it's a silly topic of conversation that is beneath them.

All the parties are allowed access to an electronic version of the electoral roll so they can better target their activities. Most make use of it to one degree or another but for NZ First, which says it has limited resources and doesn't have the time to write different information for different sectors of society. Progressive seems to have no staff to deal with technology let alone a plan for it.

Some of the parties are going beyond the simple brochure-ware website as well. The Greens have a new site for the election campaign that includes the much-talked-about "spam an editor" button. I'm not so sure this is a bad thing - editors love getting letters for publication so that sort of rules out the whole "unsolicited" side of any email they receive. Also as the Greens point out, if you sent the same letter to dozens of editors none of them will print it so be selective.

I'm all for it - if it makes the life of an editor more colourful and entertaining then fire away I say. They need sorting out. [No thanks--Ed.]

There's also talk of text messaging to cellphones along with streaming media and email newsletters. Act claims the most readers of its weekly letter - 30,000 - but they seem to be something of a captive audience: it's a single opt-in so I've signed you all up for the weekly email from Richard Prebble. No need to thank me now.

Oddly, for all the talk of a knowledge economy and the new medium that is the internet, there is very little talk of online advertising. We all saw television cover itself in glory with the announcement of how much each party would be allowed to spend on TV advertising or on the radio but there's nothing to govern internet advertising at all. It's a bit of a hodgepodge really. Candidates are allowed to spend money on certain things, parties on other areas and there are clear delineations between TV and radio, but print and the internet don't get mentioned. Interesting that it would be split up by technology at all really.

The series rounds out next week but the stories I've already written are below. Don't forget the FryUp's motto: vote early, vote often.

Greens throw off Luddite image - IDGNet

Nats take tech bull by horns with election build_up - IDGNet

Act to use technology to bypass mainstream media bias - IDGNet