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A Bouquet For Telecom? 19 August 2002 Edition
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I bet today's column carries a headline you never expected to see here right?

Well it's true that Telecom cops a lot of flack in this column, but I'm always happy to hand out bouquets where they're deserved and I think a few words of praise are in order for the rural team who seem to be focused on improving the lot of those (like me) who live out in the boonies.

Just a note: Xtra (Telecom's ISP operation) often go to great lengths to tell us that they are not Telecom. In this case I should point out that my bouquet goes to Telecom, not Xtra. I remain unimpressed by Xtra's ability to resolve problems -- hey guys, I"m still waiting on an outstanding helpdesk issue (4174274) that is now almost two months old and remains unresolved.

After reading last week's column, Telecom dispatched a team of troubleshooters to take a look at my line. It seems that someone who's less than 3Kms from the cabinet shouldn't be having the problems I have.

After spending more than a day checking, poking and prodding my lines, a number of faults were uncovered by these hard working chaps.

The line was unbalanced, had a DC bias across it, and the card in the cabinet needed changing.

Today I have a line that, while not perfect, is significantly improved on last week.

(However, don't get me started on the irritating characteristics of Telecom's IPNet system that we rural users are forced to use!)

Now, before all those other rural users who emailed me last week rush out and call faults to say "me too please" be aware that I doubt that Telecom can afford to do this for everyone with the same problems.

Estimates put the number of farmers using the Net at over 40,000 so if even 10% of those were to tie up two and a half man-days of effort to try and sort out their lines then the cost would be astronomical.

Readers Say
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From Friday...
  • TV Box... - Neil
  • Have Your Say

    Perhaps my own case is a good indicator of just how impractical it really is to provide urban-quality internet to the rural community using copper.

    Sure, Telecom could invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars going over each rural line with a fine toothed comb -- but, as in my case, that would only improve things, not make them perfect.

    There's still the audible "tick, tick, tick" of an electric fence impinging on the signal that travels down my line -- and no amount of tweaking on Telecom's part will eliminate that.

    While there are some areas (like around here) where a wireless solution would be almost perfect -- this involves capital expenditure, something that tax laws tend to penalise when compared to "maintenance" expenditure.

    So how do we improve the plight of the rural Net user?

    Well many years ago I spent a fair amount of my time installing and setting up privately owned TV translators.

    Small rural communities often found themselves without any kind of decent TV reception and in such cases they would often group together to come up with a few thousand dollars. This money would buy them a small (1W-10W) translator that would be sited on a suitable hill where it would broadcast a signal to all of those affected.

    This strategy worked very well. The community ended up with excellent reception, the TV broadcasters increased their reach and everyone was happy.

    Right now I'm wondering why Telecom doesn't do the same.

    Given the ready availability of off-the-shelf wireless hardware and software, why not offer a "rural community package" which would allow people to hook a wireless node up to the nearest bit of fibre. If that cabinet is not in line-of-site of the intended users, other nodes can be sited elsewhere to create a wireless network as small or as large as necessary.

    This network could be configured to carry broadband, voice over IP and other services if required.

    Rural users could ditch that expensive copper, Telecom could dispense with the burden of rural line maintenance and everyone would get a better service (including broadband Internet).

    This is very similar to the strategy being adopted by Rural Networks and reported in the NZ Herald a few months back. What surprises me is that Telecom isn't out there competing in this marketspace rather than simply resting on its laurels.

    As I have suggested, wireless services such as this could soon become Telecom's Nemesis so surely it's something they can't simply ignore.

    Of course, to stop the WarChalkers from marking hillsides with characters burnt using Roundup on the grass, good security would be essential ;-)

    However, there may be another option. I've had an idea (yes, another!) which might just ease the plight of rural Net users battling the evil electric fence noise. I'll provide more information at a later date -- but if this is your problem, stay tuned.

    Wake Up Pat!
    Just in case anyone was watching TV1's Breakfast show this morning and wanted more information on the "Kick-ass Ninja PC" project presented by Pat Pilcher you should be aware that poor old Pat doesn't seem to know the URL of the website he helped organise :-(

    No Pat, it's not www.pc.dse.co.nz, it's pc.dse.co.nz. Maybe they'll update the DNS to catch all those frustrated TV viewers who blindly followed the onscreen instructions -- maybe not.

    Have your say.

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