GUEST BLOG* : Introducing the Data Counsel

In September, Lillian Grace, founder and CEO of Figure.NZ will be the speaker at the TUANZ After5 series.  Figure.NZ is growing and has just appointed Aaron Schiff to the role as Data Counsel.  Below is a blog post he wrote to explain what that means.

“I’m really excited to be appointed as Data Counsel at Figure.NZ (formerly Wiki New Zealand), and I could be your Data Counsel too. What’s a Data Counsel? I’ll explain, but first…

Figure.NZ is on a mission to democratise data by making it usable by everyone. There’s tons of fascinating public data out there, but for the most part it’s trapped in obstinate spreadsheets and clunky web tools. Figure.NZ has built some really cool software called Grace that liberates this data and turns it into friendly charts and tables, and also serves it up via an API.

This is really important because data only creates value when it is used. Before Figure.NZ, using New Zealand’s public data required a lot of specialised skills and knowledge. Now all you need is curiosity. This means that vastly more people will be able to use data and generate value from it.

So what is a Data Counsel? Lillian Grace, Figure.NZ’s Founder and CEO, created this term for me. It is inspired by legal counsel, who advise, solve problems, and dispense general wisdom. This is essentially what I’ll be doing for Figure.NZ, its clients and its users but obviously in relation to data instead of law.

As well as data publishing, Figure.NZ often gets asked by companies, government, individuals, industry groups, and others for advice on how to think about or use data, and sometimes this is internal or private data that falls outside Figure.NZ’s main focus. Sometimes the guidance can be easily and freely given, sometimes it turns into a project that sees more data published on Figure.NZ, and sometimes it requires really specialised work. I’ll be helping with all of these things.

I’m super excited and grateful to be able to help such a talented group of people who are doing important and valuable work.  We have some great things coming soon, so stay tuned!"

*Guest Blogs do not necessarily reflect TUANZ official position but are posted to encourage debate and discussion on pertinent issues.

Media Release: TUANZ today submits response to proposed UFB and RBI extensions

TUANZ Media Release - 3rd July

TUANZ has today submitted a response to the Government on the proposed UFB2, RBI2 and Mobile Blackspots programme.  Over many years TUANZ has consistently stated that that the availability of good quality high speed connectivity in all parts of New Zealand is a critical economic enabler for the future of the NZ economy.

“We have been providing leadership in the need for improved access for rural users since the first Rural Connectivity Symposium held in 2005 which made the Symposium held last month the 10th anniversary event.” said the CEO of TUANZ, Craig Young.  

As part of this years symposium there were a number of general themes of concerns from rural users ranging from perceived lack of quality of connectivity, affordability issues through to a general lack of awareness of what services were currently available.  “The overriding theme though was that there was no ‘one size fits all’ solution and that the Government should be mindful of regional solutions in this round.” said Mr Young.  “And while it's outside the current RBI process, We think we as a nation need an ambitious vision that is couched in terms of outcomes and experience”

TUANZ is committing to continuing to lead in pursuing this ambitious vision:

New Zealand should have the vision of meeting the aspiration that the rural connectivity experience is the same as the urban connectivity experience.

TUANZ believes this would provide truly transformative change.  It would require political will and effort and education is key:

  1. New Zealand needs to accept that connectivity is now seen as a right not a want

  2. New Zealand should aim for equity of access across any perceived rural/urban divide

  3. New Zealand should develop a long-term, cross party strategy for rural connectivity.

The document itself also includes a section on the criteria and priority that participants at the symposium suggested should be applied to and preferred solution under the current ROI process which are around the idea of being “fit for purpose”.

We have placed a copy of our reponse on our website here: http://tuanz.org.nz/representation/  .

ENDS

 

Media Release : Commerce Commission Draft Decision delivers a disappointingly mixed outcome for Users

TUANZ MEDIA RELEASE - 2nd July 2015

The Commerce Commission latest draft decision on wholesale copper charges this morning has  provided a mixed bag of results for users today.  Users will see no benefit in their monthly bills from telecommunications service providers given that the price set for monthly access remains basically unchanged from the previous draft decision.  Users have already seen the effect of the increase of the latest decisions over the benchmarked initial price when it was released at the end of last year.  TUANZ had submitted with other interested parties that we believed the price should be lower than had been announced by the Commission last December and therefore lower than announced today.  

“For the significant number of people who will continue to receive their broadband over the copper network over the next 5 years, and especially those users in Rural New Zealand who will not have fibre access as part of UFB, this announcement disappointingly means no likelihood of reduction in monthly broadband charges” said Craig Young, TUANZ CEO.

TUANZ is pleased that the Commerce Commission has announced their preliminary decision not to backdate the changes to the copper access prices once finalised, which if implemented could have added more cost and uncertainty to users.

The Commission has released a raft of documents which provides complex detail around these numbers and TUANZ CEO Craig Young is concerned that the time for organisations such as TUANZ to submit on the decision is limited.  

“We will continue to participate fully in this process, always speaking for the end-users of these services.  Our concern has always been over ensuring a fair and competitive market which is sustainable and continues to provide world class services to New Zealanders at fair prices.”  

 

ENDS

 

GUEST BLOG : UFB AT HALFWAY POINT — IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?

Guest Blog* from Bill Bennett.  Bill blogs here.

Communications Minister Amy Adams says New Zealand’s government supported fibre network has hit the halfway point.

In a press release the minister says: "The UFB build is going from strength-to-strength, with fibre being rolled out to communities up and down the country. The project continues to be on budget and well ahead of schedule”.

There’s little question about the project being on budget that’s because Chorus shareholders have to find the lion’s share of the cost. The other network builders have to invest their own money too.

Well ahead of schedule sounds right. But that’s partly because the companies picked the low-hanging fruit first.

Anecdotally I hear the build in Auckland, which makes up more than a third of the total project, is running behind schedule. Meanwhile people living in apartments are a long way behind any schedule.

Going from strength-to-strength is debatable.

Cherry-pick

To date only one-in-eight of the people able to connect to fibre have signed-up. Given that the UFB builders cherry-picked the richest suburbs as the first to get fibre, this doesn’t bode well.

Also, as Chris Keall points out at the NBR: “…that number includes the schools that have received free connections, network management and free broadband from Crown company N4L”.

And then there are the widely reported congestion woes. Since March TrueNet, the broadband speed monitoring service, has been reporting on poor performance during the evening.

Streaming video peak time

This is the streaming video peak time. It turns out the networks can’t cope with thousands of consumers all watching Netflix at the same time.

Even the fibre-only MyRepublic service struggles. This suggests a need for further investment in backhaul and ISP provisioning.

You could argue congestion is a sign of New Zealand’s broadband network going from strength-to-strength. It means there’s a healthy demand for data services even if consumers aren’t in a hurry to switch to fibre.

Demand to grow?

Optimists assume fibre demand will grow as streaming video gathers momentum with consumers.

Radio New Zealand has followed another fibre story undermining the strength-to-strength message:
“Crown Fibre Holdings - which is in charge of the Government’s $2 billion UFB rollout - wanted to ensure service providers such as Spark and Vodafone had to offer battery backup.”

There’s a remarkable Nine-to-noon interview where Katherine Ryan questions Chris Bishop, a policy and programme manager at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Fibre battery backup

The man looks like either a liar or a fool as Ryan repeatedly asks why the ministry forced Crown Fibre Holdings to drop a requirement for ISPs to offer customer battery backup.

Time after time Bishop trots out an implausible line about “wanting to offer consumers a choice”. It doesn’t begin to address the issue.

Radio New Zealand had to get an official information request to find out about the ministry leaning on Crown Fibre and CFH’s response putting its objection to the ministry on the record is just as enlightening.

Ryan nails the key point when she notes that when this was happening suitable backup batteries cost around $300. If consumers thought they’d face that as an upfront cost, they wouldn’t sign for fibre.

Greater disclosure please

Craig Young from the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (Tuanz) says the lobby group was working with the industry to try to ensure companies installing broadband were more upfront with customers about the need for batteries.

He says: "You probably don't even know where to find a product disclosure code, for a product that's being sold by Spark. You want to be told on the phone when you get this service that it won't work when the power goes off, there should be a requirement on service providers to be a lot more upfront about these sorts of things."

Batteries can now be bought for about $100 and Mr Young said telcos could upsell those to consumers.

Fibre, batteries, power cuts

The issue is tricky. You need battery backup because unlike copper telephone networks, fibre doesn’t work in a power cut. Radio NZ worries that means people can’t make emergency calls.

Yet, with mobile phone penetration now at well over 100 percent, few households would be cut-off in an emergency. Certainly not the kind of tech-savvy households in a hurry to buy fibre.

Except there are places like the recently built old people’s accommodation in Wellington that is fibre only. The residents have to sign for fibre accounts and, at first, couldn’t make regular phone calls.

Old school telephone on fibre

Spark came to the UFB project’s rescue selling what is effectively a virtual plain old-fashioned telephone service over a fibre connection product. Any ISP could offer a similar product, the technology was baked-in to the UFB design from day one, but the others have chosen not to invest in that area.

That still leaves the problem of fibre failing in a power cut, but then so does everything else. We’re dependent on electricity. After the Christchurch earthquakes the mobile carriers used portable generators to power cell sites. People still had to find ways to charge their mobile phones.

There are still whiffs of amateur hour about the UFB project. You might well ask why it took the government until the roll-out’s halfway point to address the access issues.

And there are still questions over the price ISPs have to pay Chorus to use the old copper network. Spark recently rekindled the copper tax debate pointing out that half the money a customer pays for broadband goes directly to Chorus.

While we’re on the subject of the copper tax some sources have reported the government has made heavy-handed threats of retaliation if that term ever surfaces again in public debate. Clearly it touched a nerve. And that’s something that wouldn’t have happened if the UFB network was genuinely going from strength-to-strength.

There’s is a lot that's right about the UFB network. It’s a great idea. For the most part it’s been well executed. But let’s not delude ourselves. It’s not perfect, nor is it going from strength-to-strength. Not yet.

*Guest Blogs do not necessarily reflect TUANZ official position but are posted to encourage debate and discussion on pertinent issues.