Monday, April 6, 2009

Broadband Initiative 2.0

With gardening taking up most of my productive time (and leaving me pretty stuffed afterwards and basically cbf to blog) I've been a bit lax in feeding stories into the blogs. But also in my defense, there hasn't been much that made me want to reach for the keyboard, either....

Remember when I worked out that Telstra's bid for the national broadband initiative showed that they had been fully expecting to make several billions in clear profit from their shabbily prepared tender?  Reading this shows me that there's a far deeper problem involved.

It looks like every company involved in the tender thought they were going to clear billions and billions in profit...  And what can that be traced back to?  Well, I think Telstra's lazy insolent smugness at having been the monopolistic sole telco for Australia for so long, has rubbed off onto every other telco they've been involved in.  It's always been easy to stay under Telstra's prices, but even easier to keep prices high and blame Telstra for their monopoly pricing to other telcos.

Sol Trujillo leaving has been one of the best things to happen to Telstra - to date.  I won't say it was the best thing ever because now we need to watch what the new incumbent(s) do.  Letting other companies lay their own fibers has also been one of the best things to date - and one of the worst.

Because many of those telcos that laid in fiber are overseas companies, and while it seems inevitable that we'll soon have to think in terms of one global economy, that time isn't quite here yet.  (It should be, but it's not.  Long story...)  So for the moment our choice is to bleed our dollars into Telstra's pockets, or into the pockets of an Asian telco cartel, or something.  When Telstra was still a government-owned and operated department, we probably didn't mind so much because we were kind of keeping it in the family.

Now, it's unacceptable.  It's distasteful, and even worse, it's now put us somewhere in the range of third world countries when it comes to price of digital access.  I'd like to bring a quick observation to the table.  When I was running an ISP back in the mid 90's, data access was via ISDN lines, and our clients accessed our server via 33K dialup modems.  The cost of the ISDN data was actually quite reasonable.

Then Telstra realised in the late 90's that it was sitting on an untapped goldmine, and the price went up from 9c to 19c a meg and only a few years after that, the ISP sold to another ISP.  But think about that for the moment - if you have a 5Gb a month cap on your downloads, then at those prices you'd be paying $950 a month for that data.  Before allowing for inflation, which would make your download limit worth about $3500 in real terms,,,

And that 19c/meg figure is still around to this day.  Yep, it's just migrated to GPRS data rates.  So people with mobile phones with no 3G/HSDPA capability can look forward to big bills month after month, and really, data plans for mobile broadband aren't anywhere near realistic yet either.  While landline customers check their price in Gb, (and find that they are paying perhaps $8/Gb) mobile broadband users are still ekeing out their data in Mb's and finding that they are paying 3c/Mb or about $35/Gb on average, or four times as much as the landline customer.

And most of that is down to pure price gouging and "socially acceptable" price fixing between the telcos. Because that's the way it's been done "since Telstra days..."

I've noticed something else.  In eight years of having broadband, at three different places in a capital city and one in immediately surrounding areas, I've NEVER had acceptable performance from the existing broadband infrastructure.  Currently being in the "surrounding area" I have a 512K connection of old style ADSL which has a latency delay of about 5 - 25 seconds on everything.  At previous locations I've had ADSL and ADSL2 connections that barely managed 200K, or which disconnected and reconnected every hour due to line noise.  You get the idea.

The best performance I EVER got was a one month love affair with mobile broadband, where I was getting 1.5M speeds with almost no latency - but paying $30 a month for 1Gb and then exorbitant prices once I went over that...

So when K-Rudd talks in expansive terms about "national broadband networks" that will solve all our woes, I wish I could be as certain of that myself...  See, amid fears that the Internet is at the limit of what can be done with TCP-IP4 protocol, and we're approaching the bandwidth limits of what the network can sustain, I know that we will always find a way to make infrastructure do more with less, and also we will continue to pump infrastructure into the data economy.  But will our "national broadband network" be the right technology for that? They are, after all, touting a seven to eight year timespan and a LOT changes in IT in just 18 months...

So let's hope that the new "conglomerate" doesn't A) decide it's Telstra 2.0 and plans to make huge profits this round of tenders, B) decide it's Telstra 2.0 and can become a new monopoly and C) decide it's Telstra 2.0 and deliver Internet 0.1 standards...

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