Thursday, 24 September 2009

NOT PJ: Unwanted penetration

There’s a lot of filth on the internet, notes Bernard Darnton. For example, government plans on how best to spend your money.

_BernardDarnton Lower unemployment and higher wages have been promised by governments for years. Now Communications Minister Steven Joyce is promising lower pings and more frags.

If you’re among the 99 percent of people who can’t tell a ping from a frag you might not be sure what you’ll get out of the government’s Broadband Investment Initiative. You’ll have even less of a clue if you read the MBA-speak blather about “competitive advantage” in “innovation and global reach.”

For those who aren’t geeks or management consultants, this all means that the government will be laying new internet connections to your house. Actually, what the government is paying for is “dark fibre,” which is the internet equivalent of a pub with no beer. It’s like a party political broadcast with all of the bullshit removed.

Once the government has built the pub, the private sector will provide the beer.

“Fibre to the home” will provide “ultra-fast” broadband to the doorsteps of 75% of New Zealanders. It will supposedly provide all sorts of benefits for productivity and research for those of you who conduct cutting-edge bioinformatics research in your garage.

Thought not. Perhaps people want streaming video in their garages for other reasons. Build it and they will come.

And all of this will be provided via an ultra-fast connection to my wallet.

One thing we should be thankful for is that New Zealand’s scheme is less grandiose than stimulus plans overseas. Australia is spending four times as much per capita on broadband but then they have a lot more empty desert to provide “global reach” to. The United States is spending an unknown amount on broadband on the theory that if they print money fast enough no one will spot that it’s no longer worth anything.

The American plan involves expanding broadband networks so that the denizens of Appalachia can download The Jerry Springer Show in high definition on demand. The trouble is they don’t want to.  A recent Pew Internet survey shows that only four percent of Americans lack broadband because they can’t get it. The report suggests that putting in new connections is a waste of money and that improving the speed and reliability of existing connections is far more valuable. In other words: never mind the penetration; feel the bandwidth.

But even our comparatively modest and less poorly thought out plan has its flaws. The main one being that when the government spends $1.5 billion on something that’s $1.5 billion-with-a-B that’s not being spent on something else. And, given that people aren’t voluntarily paying hundreds of extra dollars each for broadband internet, that “something else” is probably more valuable than what the government will be dishing up.

Undoubtedly some sectors will benefit. The “cabinet-ministers-in-hard-hats photo opportunity” sector will boom.

Technology cheerleaders like Rod Drury think that broadband is a silver bullet. He thinks that with faster internet hordes of “knowledge workers” will descend on New Zealand to take a 50% salary cut because there are no mountain bikes in California. State subsidised internet connections will surely help out Drury’s software-as-a-service business venture and perhaps many like it. Surely, then, if the idea is such a sure-fire winner, Drury – a man of not insubstantial means – could pay for his own internet connection.

If it was such a stunning investment you wouldn’t need to steal the money to pay for it.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column here every Thursday * *


  1. Tell me please techi folk out there, how far off is a new way of doing things that supercedes broadband? I wager (not that I know anything about such things) that by the time they finish installing this stuff that it will be on the way to being obsolete - could I be right?

  2. This blog is like Saturday night at the wailing wall.

  3. "there are no mountain bikes in California" chortle. But there IS no winter in California: Californicans that come here are shocked to discover that we have winter.

  4. Russell: Not really. Fibre is just a medium. It doesn't dictate the protocols you use it for. That's a little like asking if roads will be superseded soon. I mean, it's possible, but highly unlikely. Broadband just means "lots of data at once". It's become a meaningless marketing term unfortunately, and people have started to think that it is a specific type of technology. Fibre provides the largest practical "pipe" (or, series of tubes! ;) for sending lots of data at once - delivering a broad band of data. I'm sure that there will be more effective ways of utilising that medium when it hits capacity, much as we saw with DSL technology getting a ton of extra capacity out of copper.

    Anonymous: Great contribution there. I'm sure you have plenty to offer?

  5. Cheers Greig, I'm going on to netsmart shortly which requires me to hook up to an aerial, how is that related?

  6. Russell: The beauty of the internet is that you can connect using tons of different ways in order to transport info, kind of like posting a package: by car, by bike, by train, by plane, it doesn't matter as long as it gets to you.

    Fibre is the equivalent to building an uber-fast-autobahn, it can take anything from Ladas to Lamborghinis. But like this, it doesn't make much economic sense to build an autobahn up to every Lada owner's driveway...

  7. I been interested in a NZ company that has developed a wireless Fractal Mesh Network for internet and other uses.

    I would appreciate hearing from techo's what their take on this approach to data transfer. It seems more logical having an expandable wireless network rather than mole-plowing fibre-optic cable up every driveway in the country.

    Answers in plain English please.


  8. Russell: Wireless connections are another way of providing that "cable" to you so that your ISP can deliver data. Due to a ton of factors far more technical than you'd ever care about, wireless is a lot more limited in total capacity than fibre. Latency (time between asking for data and getting it) tends to be higher also, but we're talking in the order of milliseconds, so unless you're a dedicated gamer (caring about pings and frags :) it won't matter to you.

    Right, I'll stop trying to turn this into "Ask A Nerd" now. ;) I return you to your regularly scheduled trolls by anonymous users.


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