More, Better, Faster but at what cost?

Chorus is to launch discussions with interested parties
regarding re-working the UFB fibre plans and prices.

The entry level 30Mbit/s down, 10Mbit/s up plan costs $37.50
per line per month (increasing to $42.50 by 2019) at a wholesale level.

That doesn’t include national backhaul, international
backhaul or any of the other stuff – it’s just the Chorus bit, so don’t expect
to pay $50/month for fibre services any time soon.

What’s interesting is the range of new products – from a
50/20 plan through to 200/200.

Most of the current plans have a committed information rate
(CIR) of 2.5Mbit/s – that is, if your line is utterly saturated with use, that’s
the minimum you’ll get.

That sounds awful, until you consider the CIR on copper
wholesale, which at the basic level gives you 45kbit/s, which is dial-up speed.

See the full line-up of prices and speeds here.


You’ll see the biggest mover is in the business space with a
doubling of the high-end plan’s speed from 100/100 for $175 to 200/200. Now
that’s a plan to get excited about.

But what will the costs be like for the retail service
providers? Don’t forget, if you as a customer want to see these speeds
throughout your entire network, your ISP is going to have to buy a lot more

An anonymous ISP source has done some numbers for TUANZ on
the Gigatown promotion that Chorus is running. Gigatown, you’ll remember, is
the plan to offer 1000Mbit/s service for the 30/10 price. However, Chorus is
unable to sell directly to users, so it has to bring in a retail ISP to do that
side of things.

Let’s assume a town of 40,000 people is chosen for Gigatown.
Chorus will provide the ports at entry-level price, so 40,000 customers x
$37.50 = $1.5M/month

Upfront costs are not cheap:

First you’ll need equipment at the exchange to handle
the traffic.  A fully-loaded chassis will
handle around  7,000 ports, so that’s six
chassis and 100x10Gbit/s backhaul.  Roughly a $6 million cost for exchange

The absolute minimum price for a box that can handle a
10Gbit/s backhaul is $1200 for a Mikrotik CCR, so the RSP has at least $120,000
capex spend to get in the game.

Then there are the recurring monthly charges:

Either co-locate the equipment at the exchange or get
100x10Gbps backhaul to premises, either way it’s roughly $30,000 per month.

The RSP needs to provision bandwidth for the
customer.  Let’s assume a generous $1/Mbit/s
for national, provision – 100Gbit/s will cost $100,000 each month.

Then there’s international capacity at $17/Mbit/s
equivalent (ISPs don’t buy international bandwidth in these terms so this is a
bit of a translation), so to provision 20Gbit/s assume a cost of $340,000 a

“With no other costs, the RSP would be at $2M/month,
with over $1.5M of that going to Chorus, assuming 100% penetration.”

At today’s rate of about 5% penetration (current UFB
stats), your costs would come down but so too would your earning potential.

Five percent uptake means 2,000 households, so only
one chassis is needed, 14x 10Gbit/s backhaul and an upfront cost of only $1
million capex at the exchange, and $20K capex for the RSP.

Backhaul or colocation costs would come in at $10,000
a month,  national backhaul would be
another $20,000/month and then your international would add another

Those 2,000 customers would earn $75,000 a month
(assuming no calls to the call centre etc)  but the costs per month would be around
$205,000, so you’d have to bill customers around $102.50 a month to break even –
no profit for you.

I’d pay $102.50 a month for gigabit speeds without a
second thought, but would you get 100% uptake at that price? I don’t know.

What does all this mean? If the sums are right (and do
let me know if you think they don’t stack up and we can discuss tweaking the
model) then selling UFB is going to be a big chore for RSPs. They’re going to
need faster speeds (but that comes at a cost) and will need to give customers a
reason to move (content, for example, which also isn’t cheap) and they’re going
to need help with the marketing to get the general population excited about it.

These really are interesting times.


Let’s go shopping

The Australian government has released its parliamentary
inquiry into IT pricing
and it confirms what we’ve always known – US companies
charge us foreigners more for the same products, regardless of cost of

Any business owner will tell you, you don’t base your
product’s price on how much it costs to make the product but rather on what the
market will pay for the product.

In the case of some big-name US brands, they’ve followed
that remit to the letter. Goods both physical and digital have been priced
according to what they think the local market will pay, and typically that’s
meant paying more.

This is a double-edged sword. I know of at least one UK band
that refused to tour in New Zealand because they were told that UK rates for
concerts converted into New Zealand dollars made the concert too expensive.
Better to have a local price point that would mean money would still be made
but which wouldn’t result in New Zealand fans mortgaging their houses in order
to see the show.

On the other hand, charging locals more for a product
because you can has led to some companies coming a cropper. Adidas, you’ll
remember, figured out that Kiwis would pay a lot more for an All Black replica
jersey than, say, Germans would and so priced its products accordingly.

These days we have the internet and we can compare and
contrast pricing. The world of regional variation is all but dead and global
prices are the new standard, yet still we find US and European companies in
particular willing to engage in dubious pricing practices “because they can”.

I know of at least one New Zealand corporate which buys all
its Microsoft licences through a US subsidiary because it saves between 30 and
50% on the price and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So what has the Aussie report recommended? Well, the
parliament is going to monitor pricing for the foreseeable future to monitor
the situation. It’s also looking to aggregate educational institutions’ needs
to buy at a better price and will consider introducing an all-of-government
model if the educational piece proves useful.

But most interestingly, the report recommends broadening and
strengthening Australia’s parallel importation laws “to ensure it is effective
in allowing the importation of genuine goods” and to revisit the copyright laws
with a view to “clarify and secure consumers’ rights to circumvent
technological protection measures that control geographic market segmentation.”

That’s right – government mandated circumvention of DRM
protection measures like region locking and the like.

But wait, there’s more. 
Recommendation six says:

The Committee further recommends
that the Australian Government investigate options to educate Australian
consumers and businesses as to:

the extent to which they may
circumvent geoblocking mechanisms in order to access cheaper legitimate goods;

the tools and techniques which
they may use to do so; and

the way in which their rights
under the Australian Consumer Law may be affected should they choose to do so.

There are even more  recommendations that go a long way towards
strengthening the user’s rights, even up to the point of considering outlawing “geoblocking”
should it come to that.

If you’re sitting there with your mouth open at the extent
of all this then you’re doing so in good company. The idea of a government doing
all of this is quite astounding. Here at home we’ve got is NZ Post and its You
service (giving customers a US postal address so as to get round shipping
restrictions) and Slingshot with its Global Mode allowing “visitors” to access
US content as if they were in the US. Ahem.

Sadly, the New Zealand response on all of these points is
underwhelming. We’ve decided to push back any decision on parallel importing or
the review of copyright laws until after the Trans-Pacific Partnership secret
deal is concluded.

Given the US is pushing a hard line on copyright,
intellectual property and parallel imports, I doubt that means good things for New
Zealand users. Unlike our Australian counterparts, we have no such support at
government level beyond Minister Craig Foss telling TUANZ that he has written
to the Australian government asking if New Zealand consumers can be tacked on
to the side of the Aussie inquiry. I’ll find out if they ever replied and what
outcome there has been, if any.

The Australians aren’t too worried about offending the US
with their actions. They’ve already secured a free trade agreement and know
that it’s not paid dividends to Australia’s economy at all. Far from it – the prevailing
consensus appears to be that Australia has given up far more than the US has
and gained very little from it.

Well done, Australia. Wellington – have a look at what could
be gained for New Zealand users and remember: we get to vote. The Americans don’t.