Lies, Damned Lies, and Comparing NZ Broadband To Other Countries.

Disclaimer: I am a internet network engineer, by profession. I’ve worked for many ISPs over the years, but I’ve never worked for the big two (Telecom and TelstraClear) and I probably never will, due to horrible things I’ve said in public forums about them. I’d go to the interview, they’d google me, and that’d be that – game over. 

I seldom participate, these days, in arguments about how crap or not crap broadband is in New Zealand. With regards to that particular fight, I’ve done my bit for Queen and Country. Also, for those of us in the industry, there’s no real controversy. It’s crap. It’s getting better, but compared to the US or the UK, it’s utter balls and everyone knows it.

I thought I’d write this to point out one thing to interested parties – there’s a hilarious bit of goalpost-shifting that usually gets performed by the kinds of people who think (or at least, want you to think) that NZ has excellent internet connectivity, and it takes the form of separation of the concepts of network connection speed, data caps, and price. 

You see, actually using the internet for stuff, like web browsing and youtube and facebook and XBOX games and updates and torrenting the latest episode of Downton Abbey … doing so involves both your network speed AND your data cap AND paying for both of those things. These three elements come together to form your internet connection, and you shouldn’t exclude any of them when you think about it. Or when you write about it. Or when you lobby politicians about it.

What apologists for NZ domestic internet tend to do, is focus on one, or MAYBE two of these elements in comparison to other countries, and conveniently ignore the remaining third.

So you get arguments where people say that NZ DSL connections are “just as fast” or “just as cheap” as US or UK connections. Or you get arguments where they say something like “the typical NZ DSL conenction costs $30/month, which is around the same as in the US/UK” or they say “Data caps and throttling and overuse-charges are used for network control in many countries” without actually saying what size those data caps are, or how much a connection is throttled. 

However, if you’re actually familiar with the internet market in various countries, these statements are hilariously specious. 

Yes, US/UK people typically pay $30/month. But they get uncapped speed and data for that, or a data cap ten times the size of the NZ equivalent.

Yes, you can also buy flat-rate connections in New Zealand (I have one) if you shop around. But the NZ ones are VERY throttled, to a degree that makes P2P and various other operations quite unusable. This is NOT the case in the US or UK.

Yes, NZ DSL connections operate at around the same speeds as other countries, because DSL over copper tech is pretty much the same worldwide, but that hardly matters because that speed isn’t actually available to NZ users at a price comparable to what US/UK users pay.

Here’s an example of what I mean in that last comment. Let’s say you, as a typical NZ DSL user, have a 20Mbits/sec ADSL2 connection, for which you pay $30/month or so. For this sum, you are given a 10GB/month data cap. 

If you actually USE your connection at 20Mbits/sec, you’ll use up that 10GB monthly cap in just over two hours. At which point you will either be throttled down to modem-ish speeds (which breaks the speed comparison to other countries), or start accruing overage charges (which breaks the price comparison). 

Commenters and journalists and policy wonks CANNOT talk about broadband parity between NZ and other countries, unless they factor in speed, data caps, and price to their comparisons. Anyone who leaves out any of those elements either doesn’t understand how broadband works, or is deliberately trying to mislead. If it’s someone who works, or has worked in the ISP industry doing it, I suspect they know how broadband works. Which only leaves deliberate deception as a goal.

Don’t be fooled.