Paying by the Bit: Internet Access in New Zealand
For reasons that would take too long to explain here, I moved to New Zealand about six months ago. I brought my life with me, including, among goods and chattels more varied than I had realized, my trusty Mac mini, which has been doing sterling duty as a Web and mail server for a year or more. My life also includes a wife and daughter, and they, not surprisingly, came with me too.
This has been an almost entirely unqualified success. The people in New Zealand are friendly, the food is astonishing, and the wine is spectacular. But, even in God’s Own Country, not everything is perfect. New Zealand is a truly splendid place to live in many, indeed almost all, regards. But for a techie – and I am, quite unashamedly and unabashedly, one of that number – there are definite quibbles, of which by far the largest is bandwidth, or the lack thereof.
When I lived in America, I was undeniably spoiled, as many Americans tend to be. Life, however shallow it may have been in other regards when one lives in Florida, was certainly easy from a connectivity point of view. My home office had a broadband connection with – as I simply took for granted, took for my birthright – unlimited data. I could slurp down, and throw up, all the data I wanted. The Internet was mine, all of the time.
But when we signed up for our New Zealand connection, we were stunned – stunned, I say! – to discover that the Internet, in New Zealand, is a highly limited and finite resource. We went from “all you can download” to “you get 20 GB a month, you’ll pay $100 a month, and you’ll be grateful for it” in the time it takes to fly from Los Angeles to Auckland (which is, now that I come to think about it, a horrendously long time). This was a most atrocious imposition for the Internet junkies that my wife and daughter had become (not me, though, of course – I was far too virtuous, too self-restrained). For all that New Zealand had to offer, the narrowness of its Internet pipes was simply intolerable.
We opted for the “double your data” option (and the additional $30 per month that wasn’t optional), but we still find ourselves limited by 40 GB per month. I check the online usage meter every few days (using, in the process, a few more precious bytes; oh, the cruel, vicious, bitter irony!) and issue imprecations to Wife and Daughter, reminding them that Facebook is a luxury, not an absolute necessity; they, as addicts always do, try to justify their endless status-checking as being entirely reasonable, indeed essential. I calculate the bandwidth usage of Skype and of YouTube; I flinch when I see Daughter download another Mary-Kate and Ashley movie from iTunes (that’s not really a bandwidth issue; that’s just on general principles – I’d
cringe if that were happening if we had a free and entirely unlimited T3 connection direct to the trans-Pacific backbone). I have developed new and careful Internet habits: I use the “Open link in new window” option if I think there’s any possibility that I might want to visit a second link from the same page, to avoid potentially having to load the original page a second time, and Apple Mail no longer checks automatically every minute – each check uses several dozens of bytes, I’m sure, and they all add up. I even avoid visiting Japanese and Chinese sites, conscious of two-byte character sets using more than their fair share of bandwidth.
I check my Google Analytics numbers with conflicted emotions: every page view for our various blogs and online presences is, on the one hand, a cause for celebration – more visits, more revenue, more Internet fame and glory. On the other hand, those page views are also an occasion for more hand-wringing, since they were served up from my Mac mini, over my desperately and mercilessly limited Internet connection. I post photographs of the beautiful country we now call home, but wince when I see that I’ve had visits to my site. Even the very act of visiting the Google Analytics Web site eats up a handful of kilobytes that I can scarce afford. And even writing this article has been a painful experience; while the catharsis of venting about
the primitivity of our connection is undeniably therapeutic, every adjective, every atom of invective, every single character I devote to letting the world know how abjectly deprived we are is one fewer byte that can be used elsewhere.
The reason for this caution is simple. As soon as we reach our allocated 40 GB – think about that for a second; it’s only a gig and a third per day, and the lovely and talented Mrs. McCabe, with whom I share everything, including my bandwidth, is a Web designer – a Gollum-like finger, somewhere in a dungeon buried deep in darkest Auckland, reaches out in the gloom, flicks a switch, and says, “It’s dial-up for you. Your bandwidth is mine, it’s mine, my precioussss.” And that’s it. We’re reduced to an Amish connection, one so slow it would be more efficient to hand-write packets of data and strap them to the legs of carrier pigeons. Web pages load – if they load – in minutes, rather than seconds. YouTube is a pipe dream. Downloads…
well, downloads don’t. There has been much discussion around the blogosphere in the last month about when the first decade of the 21st century will end. Here in New Zealand that discussion is academic – we’re still, at least in terms of Internettery, stuck back in the 1990s. My connection today is so slow that I half-expect to hear the dolphin-screech of a modem actually dialing in to Vodafone as I try to connect, and I’m grateful that I’m not on deadline for this article. Looking at the cave paintings of Lascaux would represent a faster data transfer than the one I’m hobbled with right now.
I have, I would like to stress, been more than diligent in my attempts to figure out where our precious data might be going. My first thought was Skype, given that Daughter spends much of her time video-chatting with friends back in the Northern Hemisphere. I installed iStat Menus; as far as I could tell, a two-way video conference was using only around 120 KBps. But Vodafone’s (for they are our current Internet provider) online “check your usage” tool was reporting that there were days when we used as much as 6.5 GB of data. The day we reached this number (our record so far, by the way) was a school day – I doubt, then, that Daughter’s Skyping can be the culprit (she would have
needed 15 hours of non-stop chatting, and while she’s good, even she’s not that good).
I suspected that it might be my server. I was reluctant to give up running my own server after moving to New Zealand because I’ve localized a handful of my domains – mccabe.net.nz, threelions.co.nz, astralgraphics.co.nz – and it’s hard to find U.S.-based hosting services that handle .nz domains. I host my personal site, stevemccabe.net, as well as my clients’ sites, through a European hosting-and-reselling service, but they don’t offer anything in the Kiwi domain space, so I’ve bought my domains through GoDaddy. I’ve become familiar with GoDaddy’s DNS setup system, and so, frankly, it’s just convenient to register with them and then host myself. That said, GoDaddy’s pricing structure for hosting is Byzantine beyond belief (I’ve had
clients in the past want me to set up their sites on GoDaddy – oh, the power of advertising, especially if it involves scantily clad ladies with large chests – and I now make it a condition of service that I provide hosting as well as design) and life was so much easier when I knew that I had all the Internet connectivity I wanted.
So I looked at the traffic stats on my server. This was a bittersweet experience because on the one hand, no, I wasn’t ploughing through my data, which was good, but on the other hand, this meant that my sites weren’t getting the traffic I would have liked. Still, at least that was another possible culprit struck from the list.
I issued the sternest of imprecations to my girls, and, to all intents and purposes, stopped using the InterWebs. But no matter how much we cranked back our usage, we still found that we were using – or, at the very least, we were being reported as using – at least several hundred megabytes a day.
It was time to talk to Vodafone. I contacted them several times, and received several different bogus explanations: I had viruses (ahem, my network is Apple-only), I had moochers (WPA2 password, a house built of brick, a large garden) – basically, they claimed it was my fault, one way or another. It certainly couldn’t be Vodafone’s fault. I pushed a little further. I was told to install a data tracker – I was even sent Vodafone’s recommended monitor, SurplusMeter. I installed it across my network, and it reported that I was using monstrous amounts of data. The reason was simple – it meters not only wide-area, but also local-area network traffic. My iMac, for example, was
pushing through megabyte after megabyte, even though I had no applications open at all. Well, none that would use the Internet.
Except iTunes. But I wasn’t downloading anything. What I was doing was streaming music to my AirPort Express. SurplusMeter was recording every last packet that went out of the data port it was charged with monitoring – in this case, my AirPort card. I called Vodafone again, and explained that the numbers SurplusMeter was reporting were meaningless. They said I should shut down my local network for a day and see what my numbers were like. I did – and on that day my wife’s iMac managed not to report a single bit going in or out. Not bad for a Web designer who telecommutes between New Zealand and Florida.
Vodafone’s next suggestion was that we had a line fault. This is a real possibility – I live in a very old house (we think it’s pre-war, but we’re not sure which war; my money’s on the Boer War) – and one of the call-centre people I spoke to noticed that, while a DSL modem typically reconnects four or five times a day, mine had already reconnected over a dozen times – and I still hadn’t finished my first cup of coffee. They assured me that they would look into this, but in the meantime I’d need to disconnect my phone line (a service, mind you, that I pay for) for a day in case there was a problem with my DSL filters. This may, or may not, have been the problem; I have no way of knowing. Maybe they’re still running tests. At the very
least, they haven’t replied.
Finally, I wrote to Russell Stanners, CEO of Vodafone NZ, at the end of last month. A week or so later, I got a phone call from Vodafone, and, after a long chat, the rep who called me (also called Russell; hmmm…) agreed to waive the $199 early termination fee and release me from the one-year contract that we would have been bound to until June 2010.
We’re switching to TelstraClear. I’m not doing this because they’re particularly brilliant, but because they do one thing that Vodafone doesn’t – instead of dialing us back to pecking-out-bits-on-a-Morse-code-tapper speeds, they’ll keep on selling us more gigabytes. I’m willing to pay for a service (especially a service that I actually receive), but the idea that I only get my 40 gigabytes, and, regardless of whose fault it is, that’s it, I’m cut off like a naughty schoolboy, well, that really chafes.
So now we’re waiting. Our Internet connection went back to last-millennium speeds after only a fortnight this month, so we’re struggling – some evenings we can’t tell whether we’re offline, or just really slow. And although I signed up to TelstraClear over a week ago, I just had a phone call from one of their reps letting me know that, because of the Christmas and midsummer holiday backlog, they won’t flip our switch for another week.
I’ll be emailing this article off to TidBITS World Headquarters shortly. I have no idea when they may get it. The Word document that contains this piece is 41 KB, which, at my current Internet speeds, could take until March to send. It might be quicker for me to save it to a CD, swim to California with the disc between my teeth, walk across the country, and hand it to Adam personally.
[Bio: Steve McCabe is a Mac consultant, tech writer, and teacher who moved, for reasons that have but the most tangential connection to this article, to New Zealand in April 2009. He writes about his adventures in New Zealand, he blogs about technology, and he is currently rebuilding his personal Web site.]
Once you've finally achieved a connection with TelstraClear you should find quite an improvement. Their speeds are generally pretty good, and yes, they just charge extra if you go over your monthly bandwidth allowance.
Be warned: some YouTube videos won't play on TelstraClear without stuttering - a few seconds of play, then a few seconds of nothing, play, stop, play, stop. Blimmin annoying!
For me, the key point you make is the chasm, the gulf, the galaxy between unlimited Internet (I still find it hard to believe) and the way we here in NZ have to pay for every single Bit.
It means choices all the time: download one iTunes movie this month and don't backup my latest photos until next month, or watch the Steve Keynote, or grab all the software updates.
Sure, we could just pay to move up to the next step of bandwidth allowance, but finances are limited, and you have to draw the line somewhere.
Still: frugality is a good character trait to nurture. :-)
All you need is a DNS provider that can host .nz domain names. The hosting server can be anywhere, just point to the server IP from your DNS provider.
Having your DNS and hosting provider be the same company isn't a good idea.
You can also put your mac mini in a colocation place like macminicolo.net (i haven't used them myself)
I download 3 tv shows a night. Each is around 250mb each. Add in my offline backup is updated daily (and is 150GB at the moment) -- this would kill me!
Welcome to the real world.
Americans really have no flippin' idea about how well off they are.
The situation in Australia is the same, although we also have ISPs selling "Unlimited Data" which to them means 30GB.
As I said in the beginning, "welcome to the real world"
FYI - Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported the following but failed to mention there are few if any upper caps on usage in Hong Kong and one pays for the access speed, including the availability for 1 Gbps connections to homes:
19 Nov 2009
City Telecom chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay, who began a price war with PCCW earlier this month by offering HK$99 per month for a home broadband service with download speed of 100 megabits per second.
City Telecom launched its broadband service, Hong Kong Broadband, 10 years ago. Today, with close to 400,000 customers, it holds about 20 per cent of the market. PCCW is the market leader with 1.3 million broadband users.
For more than a year, Hong Kong Broadband had been pricing its product at a premium over PCCW because it offered a faster download speed (100 Mbps against 30 Mbps).
How did the regulators in Aust and NZ allow such an important uncompetitive market situation occur? Maybe like HK in the 1980s? The US's SEC in the last 8 years?
That HK$99 per month is equivalent to US$12 per month
One small note: it's 100 Mbps symmetrical within Hong Kong, but 20 Mbps to/from Hong Kong from the rest of China and the world. That's still awesome, and most traffic will likely be video/etc within HK.
Hopefully a few more articles like this in major international websites will shock the telco's here out of their very lucrative apathy. I want to download directx 11 etc for my Vista system...oh hang on, 600mb with security updates. Will have to do it 100mb per month for the next 6 months. It's a joke. P.S My partner, who is from Japan, still can't get her head around data limits. Apparently in Japan also there's no such thing, the only difference in plan price is for download speed.
A very interesting article. You don't mention where in Auckland you are, but your change coincides with TelstraClear having literally just gone to market with an unbundled copper line service.
This means all the infrastructure is brand spanking (except for the copper line)... and fibre connected etc. It may not be as good as back home, but short of being on cable or fibre, you will be on some of the freshest kit in the country.
A quick google will confirm I work for TCL.
Yes, it's a low limit (our family's on a 20 Gig Telstra plan and that includes my work), but thank god this system means we don't have endless squabbling with ISPs about 'unlimited' plans and traffic shaping: the 20 Gigs is ours to do with as we like.
On a related note isn't it great not to pay for incoming cellphone calls?!
I moved to NZ from the states about a year ago, and I agree that broadband was a bit of a shock. Some of the smaller ISPs will give you a better deal then the big guys, though. I'm up in Northland, so I don't have the deals you'll have in Auckland. I ended up with Orcon, but Slingshot has some solid plans too. They, like the Telestra, allow you to keep your speed and by more data (or be throttled if you prefer). Slingshot will even let you rollover your unused data, and you get some free time in the middle of the night.
Anyway, a little shopping around is in order before you just sign up with Telecom, Telestra, or Vodafone...
I suspect the problem is that there are few connections to the rest of the world: one undersea cable eastward to the west coast of the US (via Hawaii), and one westward cable to the east coast of Australia, both owned by Southern Cross Cables Limited. There is a third low capacity cable to Australia (Tasman 2 cable), so there is limited market competition. This makes overseas internet traffic expensive. Contrast that with domestic NZ internet traffic which is sometimes priced lower per GB than international traffic by ISPs. If more companies laid undersea cables we might have cheaper and faster overseas access. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most world internet sites are (not surprisingly) located outside of NZ, so international traffic is a large proportion of total traffic, and the ISPs need to limit access to provide a reasonably priced service.
Having said all that, welcome to NZ! I've been here (in exile) for ten years now and the food and wine are indeed superb!
'...unlimited internet access isn't necessarily available everywhere in the" USA. There a those of us in the 'outback' rural areas of the US with very limited access. Our choice in Ohio is 28k dialup or satellite WITH MONTHLY BANDWIDTH ALLOCATIONS. We have the highest rated residential plan and only 17Gb/month...
Anyone have suggestions for an easy way to cumulatively monitor (Mac OS X multi user) our WAN (vs LAN) traffic so we can compare with our ISP's 'meter'?
The Pew Internet Life Project's research shows millions of people relying on satellite service in the U.S., which is one reason why a lot of people are hoping that 4G buildout requirements and government rural service incentives will bring urban broadband speeds to the hinterland.
The 4G licenses that were sold a couple years ago in the 700 MHz (old UHF TV) spectrum have specific required targets for percentage of population and area (depending on license). 700 MHz networks are much easier to build to cover large areas, and would be ideal in small towns and spread-out farm communities.
G'Day...Welcome to Internet in New Zealand and Australia. Expensive, not all that fast and sometimes downright slow. I wish you the best of luck with Telstra.
Small data plans are the norm with bandwidth throttling or excess data charges (and excess $$$$ charging goes with it as well).
I host my sight/s in the US and have my DNS services from my domain provider in Australia.
Perhaps the Australian NBN (National Broadband Network) may benefit those outside Australia as well in the medium to long term. (Providing Telstra, no longer is the dominant player).
Lovely place New Zealand. The most dangerous things are you're fellow human beings. You don't have to look down when "tramping" (walking in the bush) to avoid stepping on something that may give you a fatal bite.
Try the new XTRA Big Time package. This should solve your traffic problem.
As an American that immigrated here 5 years ago I can understand your points. Before moving to NZ I lived in Europe and we had all you could eat internet there too.
The Telecom Big Time plan is NZ$60 a month and it too is an all you can eat plan.
Ahhhh! Welcome to our end of the planet. The story is not that different this side of the pond, already over 50% of my 20GB quota because of a heavy usage weekend with all the cycling and tennis. I'll have to manage what we do for the rest of the month, or it'll be modem speed before the 31st.
NZ does seem a bit behind the times. Lack of competition as well as possibly laziness, ignorance or greed within the NZ ISPs all contribute. In many parts of Asia broad band is a flat rate. There are ways to limit band width hogging protocols during peak usage times during the day that most network infrastructure engineers should be able to implement within hours. Proxy servers can also save an ENORMOUS amount of bandwidth from the international connections. Thailand of all places has implemented this very successfully so they get about 10Mbits per second for any content proxied, and 1Mbs for when you are heading out of the country. Discouraging Internet usage by the masses will slow down internet saviness and penetration and really needs to be addressed. The future is either low cost or free internet usage globally in every major city of the world.
It's a fascinating topic, this. In a commercial sense, why wouldn't Internet usage be metered when similar utilities are? Should electricity and water be all-you-can-eat too? Just curious as to where the expectation comes from, given the infrastructure and investment are all local and little to do with what's sold in other countries.
This sounds like you were being double billed or shadowed billed(someone elese data and yours)! You should try to contact Vodafone about getting some money back!
Telstra are awesome where I live we have cable and yes it's expensive but it is well worth it! If you can get cable get it! I seldom have to ever turn off my router and if there is ever a problem they are proactive and friendly when trying to solve it.
I once had a situation where we were slightly overbilled and they credited the ammount with a 5 minute phone call.
I thoroughly enjoyed your writeup while at the same time commiserating with you about the Kiwi price-gouging.
My wife and I were recently on holiday in NZ and while at a motel, I bought a $30 one-day WiFi access card. Not free as I am used to, but not completely outrageous, I thought. Then I discovered, it was one day OR three cumulative hours, whichever comes first!
As one person commented, when you are out of the big cities, even in the USA, things don't look so rosy.
If you look at the cost structure of providing an Internet service, there are a number of components. Geography is the main one - it costs more to lay a cable for 100 km (country) than it does for 50 metres (city). When you are at one end of a long wire (Australia, NZ, numerous other places) and the rest of the Internet is at the other end, a major proportion of the traffic is going over that very expensive infrastructure.
And for many years (and maybe still) US carriers refused to contribute to the cost of those trans-Pacific links, so ISPs were hit with the whole cost of that vital connection, rather than just half.
It may be better to regard your previous Internet life as a bonus, and get used to the real world where you pay for what you use, just like you do for water, electricity, etc. :-)
PS, are local phone calls still free in NZ?
Yep. Local calls are still free. Water is an "all you can drink" service included in the local property tax (at least in Dunedin, where I live).
while travelling around NZ recently we were buying wi-fi time at holiday camps and motels almost daily and yes, almost all were both annoying and expensive. One vendor stood out: ZenBU (zenbu.net.nz) which alone sells wi-fi access by data used, not by connect time, and at comparatively reasonable rates. This won't solve your home problem, but recommend them to visiting tourists.
Why all the whinging about the service in NZ? I live in the US (Virginia), and a 40 GB/mo limit and the speed to use it sounds great to me. I'm stuck with a cell modem and a 5 GB/mo limit, which I never reach because the connect speeds of 400-700 kbps (yes, thats kilobits) make large downloads painful. The only alternative is satellite, which is even more limited. The US is certainly no utopia for high speed internet.
Compared to the US the Australian phone network spans the physical size of the US supported by a user population the size of California.
Steve, don't get caught up in the Kiwi National Sport of sailing: the bandwidth there would be spectacularly slower than you already have. Then it really would be better to sail to 5 miles off Singapore; whence you could make a good WiFi connection.
Creatively speaking ~ couldn't you make a strategic alliance with a broadband user in exchange for something valuable ? Fishing and sailing time in exchange for shared connections...?
Great idea moving to new zealand, it is a beautiful place despite the bandwidth issues. However, like australia it has a small population but challenging geographic demands and is serviced by greedy and obstinate telcos Steve has had an entirely different experience with Vodofone NZ than I have had in Australia with Vodofone, there they consider customers to be an irritating inconvenience best completely ignored so that they can focus fully on providing unstable and unreliable service. Good luck getting them to even answer an enquiring phone call. I no longer live in Australia but continue to maintain a cellphone number there. On my last visit to Australia the service did not work for most of the time I was there. I now live in province of Indonesia a good long distance and several island hops from the capital of Jakarta in west Java. Here even 'fast' broadband generally behaves like dial up most of the time. It is also horrendously expensive.
just returned from a vacation in new zealand, two weeks on north island and one on south island; the solution for the internet is simple: drink kiwi wine, buy fish and chips, get some cold beer (mac's gold in nice) and go to the beach or try a bungee jump.
I feel your pain! America really has it sweet when it comes to broadband (unless you live in the country then its as bad as anywhere else!) and mobile, however, I write this from a large house in Wellington where we have unlimited broadband, so it is possible, even in NZ!
Unfortunately, one of the things that makes NZ so great (distance from all the trouble) makes broadband a pain in the ass!
Ah, the Internet in New Zealand can be very depressing. If you would like fast, unlimited Internet, I recommend Xnet - I pay $1/GB + $40 a month for full speed DSL. It's the best option if you go over 60-80 GB/month, and their customer support is excellent!
Reasons why there is a disparity between what happens in Japan/USA and AUs/NZ with "unlimited" bandwidth.
The USA for the most part (regional/rural exemptions acknowledged) does not pay to get access to the "interweb". The view is that the US invented it, own it so don't pay. The rest of the world pays.
AUS/NZ ISPs & Telcos carry traffic to Palo Alto and pay real $$ to North American Peering agents to deliver the traffic. They also pay $$ for every bit that the US wants to send in this direction.
The reson why this doesn't happen in Japan & Korea is that these two countries have native languagues that for the most part are not used anywhere else.
Now if Australians & Kiwis only spoke spoke their native Aboriginal/Maori the international bandwidth problem, and bandwidth caps would fall away.
Alternatively we could try to get the US to stop charging for the traffic we carry.
I suspect the former solution is likely to be easier and quicker to achieve.
Moving from France where data cap went away in 1998 to NZ where we pay 3 times the price to get 8 times less speed and little data cap was quite hard to swallow.
And this blog depicts exactly peoples usage of the internet: 'oh! I can't watch a second Youtube video today or I wont be able to do anything online at the end of the month.'
Ok, NZ, small country far from everything BUT consumers have to pay a fortune to get very little, why would they pay even bigger fortune for more of the crap service?
Not to mention the NZ telcos propaganda (usually miss-leading and regularly sanctioned by dear commerce commission ...) and self-satisfaction at declaring delivering what they call 'world class' services. Really? In which world? And at what price?
I am the same as most people, my finances aren't unlimited, I don't use my home broadband to run a business and more than $90 for 10 slow GB per month feels very much like being ripped off and doesn't make me enjoying AT ALL using my 10GB!