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Juha Saarinen 's Opinion

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: Telecom vs Chorus

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Tech blogger Juha Saarinen looks at the Chorus/Telecom scrap and the latest round of the digital privacy debate.
Photo / Dean Purcell
Photo / Dean Purcell

My doubts as to whether Telecom's structural separation was for real all but vanished this week when the retail arm, soon to be renamed Spark, lashed out against monopoly network infrastructure provider Chorus.

Telecom didn't mince words either: Chorus wants to make extensive changes to the regulated wholesale broadband it provides over copper lines, because of the Commerce Commission imposed price cuts that are about to kick in.

Chorus first wanted to withdraw the regulated, fast VDSL2 product completely, and make changes to the older ADSL2+ copper broadband service - and sell two new commercial ones instead called Boost HD ADSL2+ and Boost VDSL.

After what Chorus politely calls "industry input" (read: howls of outrage from providers), the company told me they decided not to withdraw the regulated VDSL2 but to give it a "handover" capacity of 250 kilobits a second per user and month for connections to ISPs' networks.

ADSL2+ meanwhile would see the use of an upgraded Dynamic Line Management feature, and Chorus tells me this amounts to a network upgrade. There are also minimum line (connection) speed guarantees for Boost HD of 6Mbps downloads and 600Kbps uploads, and 10Mbps/5Mbps equivalent for Boost VDSL.

Both services should apparently provide a service guarantee of at least 5Mbps during a 15 minute period which is... not that impressive to be honest.

Telecom describes it as 2007 standard broadband all over again. I guess they should know, having built the network.

Cutting to the chase, the proposed changes have infuriated Internet providers, who see it as a service degradation compared to existing broadband offerings.

Thing is, despite the regulated specifications, there has been no throttling of broadband over copper at the handover point to ISPs' networks.

You've pretty much had the line speed all the way to your Internet provider and it's hard to see how Chorus' proposed changes which would limit this amount to an improvement.

The backhaul or connection to ISPs from the roadside cabinets is through 1 or 2Gbps circuits, which is ample to service users connected to it. Furthermore, as New Zealand moves from copper broadband to fibre-optic connections, the load on the DSL network will go down, not up.

As is apparent from Google's Video Quality report the current network is quite sufficient to stream high-definition movies.

You can't really argue with Telecom's point that Boost HD and VDSL offers no added value for anyone apart from Chorus, which can charge for the services at commercial rates that are higher than the regulated ones.

Telecom is so angry that it has gone as far as to dob Chorus in to the Commerce Commission, saying the latter is in breach of its good faith obligations and that proposed changes contravene the law, which is quite extraordinary.

We'll see what the regulator thinks of the Boost plans, which are supposed to go on sale in September this year. Telecom's in a tight spot here, because it is dependent on Chorus wholesale connections, and unlike other providers, it cannot unbundle (put its own broadband gear into exchanges and cabinets) until the end of the year.

Even if Telecom were to unbundle, it would be a costly move that might last five or six years at the most, until fibre broadband via UFB becomes commonplace - unless Chorus misses that too.

Chorus' proposal by the way isn't the "nuclear option" that was mooted earlier this year. That, Chorus tells me, would be to enforce the 32 kilobits a second per user and month capacity set out in regulatory documents.

Whether or not 32Kbps is the most the regulated network is required to provide, or the bare minimum below which performance mustn't drop appears to be up for debate.

The chances of Chorus slamming the brakes on the regulated service to that extent is extremely unlikely however, as it would be a red rag to the bull. In this case that's government which has already provided Chorus with very comfortable terms to build the vast majority of the Ultra-Fast Broadband fibre network, and which is already feeling its chain yanked during election year on the issue.

There's only one provider that seems quite happy with what Chorus is proposing, and that's Vodafone.

Could this be because Vodafone has its own cable network and even copper lines that it acquired with the TelstraClear purchase, and is also a large unbundler with its own equipment in exchanges rather than buying wholesale broadband connections from Chorus?

If the Chorus supplied DSL doesn't work as well as it does today, it would make Vodafone's network look good in comparison. Surely Big Red wouldn't be as cynical as that?

You might wonder what the kilobits per second and user and month is all about. This is a remnant from the past when bandwidth was expensive and scarce. Network providers bought a circuit of a certain size and dimensioned it on the expectation that x amount of users would go through y amount of data in a month.

With 250Kbps per user and month limit, that would be roughly 82-85 gigabytes a month data cap for customers. Not really enough in the Netflix era, is it?

Chorus seems to be approaching being an infrastructure monopoly in 2014 by rubbing up its wholesale providers and their customers the wrong way.

It might do better by accepting the fact that there's no going back to the past, and work on understanding what is actually expected of Chorus, rather than being tricky.


Privilege no more

Most of the discussion around former United States National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden's leaked have focused on state surveillance of innocent people because if they haven't done anything, they don't have anything to hide, right?

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden participates in a conversation via video. Photo / AP

The consequences of the surveillance are tremendous though. Journalists can no longer promise to protect sources because it's easy for governments to work out exactly who they saw where, and at what time thanks to technology tracking us and the ability to store and recall huge amounts of data.

Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica found out just how extensive the surveillance is when he asked the US government for his Passenger Name Records that airlines and hotels create.

Farivar received nine years' worth of records. There was masses of information, including his old credit cards, even the language he used when booking trips and accommodation.
That's bad enough, but the information was stored in clear text meaning anyone who accessed it could see all of it. Privacy and data security? Who needs that?

Even if you don't care about journalists and media being able to do their work without being watched, the same applies to doctors, lawyers, accountants, any professional people who you're meant to be able to speak to in confidence.

Professional privilege is pretty much out of the window with Snowden's revelations and he now suggests that they too start encrypting communications with their clients.

That's just madness if your doctor or lawyer have to start learning digital cryptography as well to protect people from random snooping.

Labour's Digital Bill of Rights with a promise to rein the mass surveillance in is probably the most important part of their ICT policy. It should however be a broad agreement by all parties, and it's disappointing to see that ICT Minister Amy Adams doesn't even consider it worthy of mention.

You'd think MPs of all people would appreciate being able to speak to constituents and other people without some spy geeks listening in.

- NZ Herald

Juha Saarinen

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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