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XTRA Discontinues JetStart 23 April 2002 Edition
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Million $ Ideas
At last, the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook are revealed for all to see!
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It looks as if the DSL service formerly known as Jetstart is no more -- at least as far as XTRA are concerned. The formerly flat-rate service has now been replaced by "JetStream Starter" which offers the same leisurely transfer rates but with the added disadvantage of a 5GB per month data cap.

All *international* traffic in excess of the 5GB cap will be charged at the rate of 10 cents per MB.

This revised package is detailed on XTRA's Jetstart page, however as of last night, the telecom site was still advertising the availability of the original true flat-rate JetStart option and referring you to the XTRA site to buy the said service. It would seem that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing perhaps?

Look out for the oversight to be corrected very shortly -- perhaps even by the time you read this -- although I noted that according to this story (NZ Herald), the introduction of JetStream Starter isn't actually scheduled until June.

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Now comes the tricky bit...

Given that XTRA uses a hideously aggressive web-cache that goes to incredible lengths to intercept and then hijack your international web-page requests, preferring instead to serve up stale old versions stored locally -- is the company now guilty of gross profiteering and copyright infringement?

XTRA Endorses Digital Piracy?
Just think about it for a moment...

XTRA downloads a copy of this copyrighted webpage without my permission and stores that copy on its own computers.

It then SELLS copies of that webpage (at the rate of $0.10 to $0.20 per MB) to any of its DSL customers who are over-cap for the month and request access to aardvark.co.nz.

Is this really any different to the guy who downloads a copy of the latest Metallica CD from a P2P service and then sells copies to his friends for $0.20 per MB?

No, it's not! In both cases, copyrighted material has been duplicated and republished for profit without the expressed permission of the copyright owner.

Is XTRA therefore, by its own example, now endorsing the wholesale piracy of digital content through the Internet?

Readers Say
(updated hourly)
  • Xtra Jetstart... - Paul
  • Jetstream 'Starter'... - Joe
  • Data Capping... - Vincent
  • Jetstream Caps... - Brian
  • Xtra's JetStream Starter... - Dave
  • Reply to Chris Barton... - Craig
  • Changing DSL service... - Dominic
  • Difference between you... - Kurt
  • Have Your Say

    To be honest -- if XTRA is going to profiteer from my content in this manner by republishing it locally without permission, I want to be paid a fairly sizeable chunk of that $0.10 to $0.20 per MB!

    I bet XTRA wouldn't dare infringe the copyright of the recording companies by selling (for profit) unauthorised copies of popular albums to its customers -- so why is it doing exactly this with the content of small online publishers who choose to host overseas?

    I'd like some opinions from the legal eagles (note that I don't call them sharks when I want a favour) who regularly read this column.

    Is XTRA's unauthorised copying and republication of this website for a payment of up to 20 cents/MB (and the obvious high profit margin this represents) exceeding the bounds of fair use?

    Even the fact that caching web-proxies are now commonplace on the Net could hardly be considered a defense -- after all, does the fact that unauthorised copying of copyrighted music on the Net through P2P networks is also commonplace make it legal? Of course not.

    It would also appear that, unlike most other ISPs, XTRA seems to have deliberately configured its cache to ignore some of the common rules for determining what should be cached and what shouldn't. According to this cacheability test, this page should always be considered "stale" and therefore considered "very uncacheable" -- but greedy old XTRA breaks the rules and caches it anyway.

    Of course it could be argued that caching my content locally isn't depriving me of any revenues therefore isn't really a breach of my rights -- but I'd disagree -- and point out that claiming you would never buy a particular album is no defense against illegally downloading that same music from the Net.

    One of the metrics which have traditionally been used to determine the value of an online property is the level of traffic it attracts -- and one of the unfortunate effects of aggressive web-caching is the way it distorts webserver logs.

    When a webpage is cached by an ISP, many of the requests for that page never actually reach the webserver and are therefore not reflected in its logs. This effectively means that the verifiable site traffic appears to be far less than it actually is -- so while XTRA are busy pocketing money by reselling a publisher's content, they're also eroding the value of that site as a Web property.

    And, as I mentioned in a previous column, the fact that they're consistently serving up out-dated versions of my content has the effect of devaluing the public perception of the site as source of up-to-date news and commentary.

    I really believe it's time for a test-case -- what do you think?

    Just in case you think I'm being selfish here, I've and quite a number of "not for publication" emails from other website owners who are operating overseas-based webservers and finding that XTRA's overly-aggressive caching is also causing them grief.

    I must say that I'm quite surprised not to have heard from XTRA over this issue -- they're usually not slow to respond when I question their activities through this column. Are they just hoping this will blow over or what?

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