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When the blinky lights stop blinking

8 April 2008

After years of being almost solely reliant on a thin ribbon of glass that connects New Zealand's internet with the rest of the world's, it would appear that things may soon be looking up.

The SOE Kordia claim that the new cable they're contemplating laying in partnership with Aussie company Pipe International, will provide lower prices, improved performance and greater reliability for Kiwi Net users.

Now that can't be a bad thing.

On NatRad this morning there was even some brave talk that there might even be enough bandwidth available to consider the abolition of data-caps.

Yeah, right!

As we all know, if there's money to be made, there are going to be no free lunches so I'd lay even money that data caps will never disappear, regardless of the number of cables we have.

The government is so excited about the prospect of this new cable that they're even talking about contributing to its costs.


Surely if it's a commercially viable operation then it'll stand on its own two feet, without the aid of taxpayer funding.

What's more, since one of the partners is the SOE Kordia then surely there are effectively taxpayer dollars being poured in anyway - so why pour in more?

Besides, this cable is surprisingly inexpensive, with Kordia advising that the investment involved is less than $100m, an amount that is chicken-feed in the telecommunications marketplace.

Given the projected growth in demand for international connectivity, I would have thought that no organisation of the size and pedigree of Kordia would have any difficulty raising money on the markets and that our tax dollars could be put to better uses than subsidising a commercial enterprise.

But let's face it, we really do need another cable, if not to provide additional capacity then to at least reduce our vulnerability to a single point of failure, as could happen with the Southern Cross system.

One only has to look at the effects a few strands of broken glass caused around Asia a little while back - almost completely knocking some countries off the Web.

A big earthquake, rogue trawler or ship dragging its anchor off the coast of NZ could have an even more devastating effect here.

Which kind of leaves me wondering -- just how would we cope if NZ was cut off from the rest of the world (Net-wise)?

There are still satellite and terrestrial links that would provide a tiny amount of backup capacity but nowhere near enough to cope with the demands of porn-hungry websurfers.

Most Net users would find all overseas destinations unreachable and that could really cripple some businesses that rely on international connectivity for email, website access and file transfers.

Unlike planning for hardware failure, power loss or other disaster, there's really not much you can do to implement contingency plans for a catastrophic loss of international connectivity is there?

Companies such as BorderNet offer satellite-based Net access but I suspect that only the VSat bi-directional satellite based system would work, the cheaper options requiring a local Net connection for the uplink side.

I really wonder how many companies that are heavily reliant on Net access have put contingency access plans in place?

Can you get business insurance to protect you from the kind of protracted outages in connectivity that a major earthquake might produce for example?

And what would *you* do if all your favourite websites (including this one -- being hosted off-shore) suddenly disappeared from your browser?

I wonder if anyone has considered setting up local caches for key overseas news and information sites. Their pages could be downloaded onto a local server and local DNS servers reconfigured to at least give people the illusion that there's some useful connectivity left.

Or should we all just go back to watching TV in the evenings?

And what do you think of predictions that data caps will disappear once a second undersea cable comes online?

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