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Fry Trashes New Zealand Broadband. Schembari Says ‘HELL YEAH’.

by Marian Schembari on February 20, 2012

Ever since arriving in New Zealand I’ve been developing this chip on my shoulder about the internet. When I first arrived I had been freelancing, which meant spending a lot of time out of the house working at coffee shops and libraries.

Not in New Zealand.

I quickly discovered coffee shops here don’t have free wifi, but the general internet is total crap. Not only slow, but expensive. And dysfunctional anywhere outside cities. And, oh, wait, LIMITED.

What is limited internet?

At the risk of sounding like a first-world whiner (which, let’s face it, the majority of this post is going to be just that), I had no idea what limited broadband meant until moving here.

Essentially it means you can only pay for and use a certain amount of data. Activities like checking email don’t eat much. Updating software, using Skype, watching YouTube videos, uploading photos…. those do.

In New Zealand, that data costs a lot. For $200/month living with five people we received 20GB of data each. In New York, my roommate and I paid $22 total for unlimited internet. You do the math.

Broadband Issues Bad for New Zealand’s Economy

I’m currently working for a start-up in a young industry. I meet a lot of professionals and entrepreneurs who are invested in New Zealand’s growth as part of the global economy. Over the past year I’ve been to many conferences on that very topic – a major event at the University of Auckland Business School, a digital conference run by MSN, a program hosted by Google…

Want to know what all these events had in common?

None of them had wifi.

Someone please explain how you can attend a conference for digital professionals about the growth of New Zealand’s international economy AND NOT HAVE THE FUCKING INTERNET.

But wait! It gets better…

Enter: Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry, master of all that is humorous and national treasure of England, is in New Zealand. And I was giddy with joy when my 15-month-long annoyances were justified when I saw this tweet:

The full story is, apparently, Fry was doing lots of “high-bandwidth activities” like uploading photos/videos. He went over the limit and Telecom slowed his speed to dial-up, which is what happens here if you exceed your limit.

(As someone who does this every month, I can assure you it’s quite the treat.)

What shocked me though were the tweets following Fry’s rant. New Zealanders are a defensive bunch and even if everyone here hates the limits, there was no way in hell they would allow an outsider to insult their country.

One guy tweeted that, well, “maybe internet is slow here but at least it stops people from tweeting too much” (!). Another called Fry an asshole. And, of course, many brought out The Earthquake Card, saying Kiwis who have internet “should be thankful for what they have.”

NZ publications and even the damn government is responding to this issue all wrong. They’re responding as if Fry has had an out-of-the-ordinary experience. I can assure you, he hasn’t. Fry’s issue is representative of a bigger problem in New Zealand.

Dear NZ, You’re 10 Years Behind. Again.

Fry later posted a series of tweets that have made me fall in love with him even more. He said (edited for clarity), “Comcast-style throttling is disastrous for the economy. For visitors and for everyone. It won’t stop illegal torrenting and makes as much sense as closing a lane of traffic because there’s congestion. Yes, Kiwi Land is remote, but if Avatar can be made here and they want to keep its reputation for being the loveable, easy-going, outdoorsy yet tech savvy place it is, then pressure @telecomNZ into offering better packages. Kiwis travel. They know 20MB is routine in Europe and the UK is rolling out ultra fast fibre-optic. Come on, New Zealand, you’re world champions at rugby and film-making. Pressure the providers to stop being a digital embarrassment.”

This has nothing to do with Fry going over the data cap. Or choosing the wrong provider. There is no other provider. There are no real competitors to Telecom. It’s called a monopoly. And it’s not okay.

And, to clarify, most first world countries don’t have data caps. As per usual, New Zealand is about ten years behind. In the words of one commenter, its policies are “primitive.” One traveler even said that as much as he loved it here, the broadband limitations means he “could never work or live here permanently.”

So BRAVO, Stephen Fry. B-R-A-V-O.

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  • Jess Berridge

    Come on @telecomNZ – help lead the way. “@MarianSchembari: My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:”

  • Louise Varcoe

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Mark Vopat

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Bruce Kirk

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • ellen welch

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Vaughn Ripley

    Awesome (& funny) blog post: My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle: (via @MarianSchembari)

  • Peter Prevec

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Robbie

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Melanie Highet

    Agree! RT @MarianSchembari My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Pieter Booysen

    The cable is too long! Pathetic excuse. Every person in world deserves cheap unlimited BB. Education to everyone.

  • Nadine Hengen

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Princess

    Wonderful article by @MarianSchembari  detailing NZ's broadband problem. @telecomNZ

  • Richard Boseley

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Richard Westney

    Well said Marian RT @MarianSchembari: My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Pish

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Victoria Panckhurst

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • denise mckenna

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Simon Youens

    RT @stephenfry: RT @MarianSchembari: My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Mel Friis

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Julia Fleming

    Wow, I never realized how bad the internet situation in NZ is. It's amazing @SuedeBlade can upload his videos at all.

  • Christine Kelly

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

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  • Connie Smith


    Have you seen this.
    If NZ and Australia is chosen as the site for this astronomy project then a  byproduct would  be a  huge upgrade to NZ’s internet. 

    Its not going to force telecom to provide better/cheaper plans but it should at least effect internet speed. 

    • Marian Schembari

      No, I hadn’t! Thanks so much for sharing – very, very cool.

  • weblizard

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • John

    “most first world countries don’t have data caps” so not true. They’re just hidden. It’s called throttling.

    • Marian Schembari

      Fascinating! I had no idea. Will have to look into that… At the very least though, the now four countries I’ve lived in over the past few years haven’t had data caps nearly as limiting as NZ.

  • Leigh Barlow

    Grt read @MarianSchembari on NZ not being 1st world. MT @ghostfinder: Interesting piece on New Zealand's broadband caps

  • mark vogt

    My rant on the whole @stephenfry debacle:

  • Jason Kemp

    Marian, Do a search on Pacific Fibre which will be a real game changer in about 2 years time.  

    Existing bandwidth coming down here is rationed because Southern Cross Cable 50% owned by Telecom makes more $ by dong that. So that is a huge upstream issue. Australia has cable competition -we dont. The last mile – crappy copper wires up most streets. Its just not possible to get much faster than 5mb down for most users. My home connection ranges between 1mb or less on a bad day and 12mb on a very good day. There are all sorts of variables but ultimately price gouging & long term wholesale contracts to ISP’s on international traffic + the copper wires most of us have to deal with are the 2 real choke points.I can get 5-6mb on a 3g mobile connection but that varies widely. Those on a business connection may have fibre into their buildings and so can get much faster connections. With 1 Gb of mobile data only $20 on 2 degrees the WiFi people have to think about changing their billing systems but most of those systems look more expensive and can also be quite slow.Re conferences: ISP’s and WiFi providers are not really setup for one off events. Even if organisers want to put in a special connection they can’t as billing systems and every other system is just not setup for it.Even universities which are on a super fast network struggle to provide bandwidth when busy.

    The UFB project will get to speeds of “at least 100 Mbps (Downstream) and 50 Mbps (Upstream)” that is rolling out now and in Auckland there are some areas that already benefit but it has to be fibre to everywhere

  • Tilly

    I think there is a lot to be said for just dealing with it. the broadband could be better, yes. But the fact is that were NOT a big country and we dont have the same size market as somewhere like the US. Economic priorities play a big role in this and speaking as someone coming from a lowest decile possible schooling background I would say that getting interenet access for people is a bigger issue than the speed or data allowance – would prefer to see the government prioritise low socioeconomic communities being able to have more access to technology and computer literacy.

    There is most definately a huge amount of room for improvement across the board but I think there are more graceful ways of going about it – though I get it, this is a blog and blogs are the place for rants. When travelling to different places you do just kind of have to get used to it, its like the public transport systems which is hideously under-developed… another thing that would be higher on my list than faster internet in more cafes. Comparing NZ to the UK or US just isnt fair when we don’t have the same access to industry or infrastructure, we are getting there, just at a speed that allows us to get somewhere with a few other things too because while it is not super convenient  there just isnt someone to foot the bill for an instant fix on this. Reading your reponses to some comments… it would probably have been usfeul to do some background research before writing this – did you even look at what the policy lays out before starting writing?

    • Marian Schembari

      No, I didn’t. Like you said, this is a blog and place for rants. However people take it is entirely up to them.

  • kazzles

    Thanks for your perspective on this. I totally and utterly agree. I am a Kiwi living in London now and I have to admit the thought of coming back to the crappy broadband is really not inspiring. I used to work in Telecommunications in NZ and I can say that neither of the main companies, nor the Government really have the forward thinking grasp on what is actually needed and what is available overseas. I remember a couple of years ago a Vodafone door-to-door person coming around and trying to get me to sign up for a whopping 20gb plan, I was at that point on an unlimited (with throttling I think) with Telecom and our flat could use 20gb in a day sometimes so of course I was unlikely to want to switch – I was told that 20gb was quite a lot and why on earth would I want more!

    Personally, I find NZ’s defensiveness about it’s faults probably the thing that really holds it back. And probably the Government’s inability to understand the bigger picture too (I believe they forced Telecom to use CDMA ten years ago in the interests of competition for example). Mind you, at times it’s frustrating as a kiwi overseas to be completely dismissed as having any valid thoughts on the world because you come from such a small country – the British banking system is easily 10 years behind NZ’s and very frustrating. 

    Wifi isn’t as available anywhere else other than America as well if that helps you feel better about living in NZ. :-)

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  • CWatson

    I think most of the Internet plans are quite expensive in New Zealand. I have a friend that is doing her higher education in New Zealand. She always hollers about slow Internet connection and expensive packages. technology has to grow fast when other countries are offering so many benefits for Internet users.

  • HarlotProgress

    Searching for articles on why my cable internet sometimes seems slower, I came across this gem. While I am not at…

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  • Tap H.

    @nanananattt วัยรุ่นที่NZไม่มีชีวิตติ่งๆแบบคนไทยค่ะ YvY (จะว่าไปคุณ Fry เคยติเน็ตแดนแกะจนเป็นข่าวใหญ่พักนึง 55 )

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