Sunday, July 29, 2007

Snail’s Pace

The Internet is a great thing—it’s a tool for work, a source of entertainment and a way to communicate. Except when it’s not.

For about a week, I’ve been frustrated as hell by the abysmal connection speeds over our DSL “broadband” connection. Our ISP says they think the problem may be related to the storms week before last and have alerted Telecom NZ—the company that owns and runs the DSL backbone.

Telecom was once state owned, until neo-cons sold it off to foreign investors in a fire sale. In the years since, the company has under-invested in infrastructure, usually moving only when it was forced to by competition (as with mobile telephones when Vodafone entered the market and started beating Telecom).

More recently, the government, fed-up with Telecom’s endless empty promises, decided to regulate and essentially break up Telecom’s monopoly. Telecom’s CEO at the time, admitting defeat, promised not to obstruct or use delaying tactics to try and frustrate the government’s objectives. To this observer, it looks like they broke their promise as soon as it was made.

The news media suggest that
NZ broadband connection speeds are slow by international standards, with a theoretical ordinary speed of about 2 Mbps for most people, though their real connection speeds are generally far slower. However, the connection speeds at our house are usually much faster than the ordinary speeds the media tells us to accept.

That was until recently. This evening, I tested our connection and found we had 385kbps download and 506 kbps upload. Believe me, that feels like dial-up speed when you’re waiting for a web page to load.

It’s been so bad lately that sometimes I just give up trying to access a web page altogether. My iTunes often loses connection to podcasts I’m downloading, forcing me to try again and again and again to finally get an episode downloaded. My own podcasts take far longer to upload than they should.

There is, of course, nothing we can do about this. The New Zealand Herald conducted a survey among online readers and found that most experienced slow speeds. Not surprisingly, users of Telecom’s ISP, Xtra, reported fast speeds, but even a quarter or so of Xtra users reported unacceptably slow connections.

The whole point of government intervention was to force Telecom to do what it otherwise would not. Fast Internet connection speeds are a vital national interest for an island nation so far from the main world markets, and it now seems evident that the government will have to use real force to bring about the necessary changes. That can’t happen soon enough

Note: This post has been edited and expanded for clarity’s sake, so it differs from the version originally posted.


d said...

We use Orcon (http://www.orcon.net.nz/). The DSL is superfast - even the dial-up they have is really fast!

You should check them out and see if they are providers up there.

Better yet, they have a deal with Fatso.co.nz (DVD rentals via mail).

Arthur Schenck said...

I revised my post a bit to make it clearer, because we usually get fast speeds--until recently. The real point, anyway, was that the problems being experienced by a lot of people are likely the inevitable result of Telecom's under-investment in infrastructure and refusal to change.

Orcon is available in most of the country (they're based in North Shore City). Whether we switch to them will depend on who offers the best deal as well as speeds.