HOME Technology Nov 2006
Foot off broadband hose
Everyone gets faster internet
True broadband connectivity has taken a giant leap forward with unbundling legislation forcing Telecom to open up the throttle, offering bigger bandwidth to its customers and competitors.

As October drew to a close most of the main internet service providers (ISPs) had announced new plans for faster internet access, starting as low as $20 – $30 a month, and at the higher end data caps and speed bumps disappeared altogether.

Telecom Xtra’s led the way giving subscribers to its broadband DSL (digital subscriber line) service, access to the maximum download speeds their copper telephone lines could cope with. In the recent past broadband was choked back to 2Mbit/sec maximum speed, then edged out to 3.5Mbit/sec as legal and competitive pressure mounted.

Those fortunate enough to live in a neighbourhood close to an exchange, with high grade coppers lines and low broadband use, could potentially achieve speeds of up to 7.5Mbit/sec. In most areas however, it’s more likely to average 3.5Mbit/sec – 5Mbit/sec.

Existing customers on 256kbit/sec and 2Mbit/sec monthly plans will automatically be boosted to the new full speed. The best prices are available to customers who have a phone account with Telecom or ihug, which recently entered the home phone market, otherwise there’s a $10 premium.

All but gone are the monthly data caps that either resulted in a premium being charged for every megabyte over the limit, or internet accounts being choked back to dial-up speeds. The only restrictions now are based around a fair use policy; if someone’s downloading hundreds of gigabytes of data and disrupting network use during peak hours, a level of traffic management will apply.

An indication of what’s ahead for all ISPs is in Xtra’s new monthly rates. A basic plan at $30 a month still attracts a 200Mb data cap but the speed restrictions have gone. The $30 Go plan retains a 1Gb data cap, slowing to dial-up once the limit is reached. The Go Large offering at $50 does away with the data cap and cranks up the speed to line capabilities.

Plans for those who want to send a lot of data boost the 128kbit/sec upstream speed limit to 256kbit/sec – 512kbit/sec but bring back data caps (2Gb – 30Gb), ranging in price from $50 to $150.

The last ISP survey released by Statistics NZ in March showed dial up subscribers were in decline and broadband subscribers had jumped by a third over the previous six months. There were 57 Internet service providers (ISPs) operating in New Zealand by the end of March, eight less than the previous period. Total internet subscribers totalled 1.3 million and just over a million were residential users with 70 percent still on dial up connections.

While the number of broadband connections leapt up 44 percent over the six months to the end of June 2006 we still couldn’t pull ourselves out of number 22 rut at the bottom of the OECD broadband figures where we’ve languished for the past three years.

Only 11.7 percent of New Zealanders, about 479,000, were connected to the internet at high speed, only slightly higher than the 8 percent penetration we had by December 2005. The OECD average was 15.5 connections per 100 inhabitants. That leaves some considerable improvement required before we can reach the Government’s lofty goal of getting the country into the top quarter of the figures by 2010.

It is however expected, that broadband connections will rise rapidly as the full impact of unbundling the Telecom network literally hits home.

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