Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Of Phones and Phone Companies

One of my readers, Dr Nazli, suggested to me that mobile phone phone reception was worth getting angry about. I certainly agree but I wasn't sure how to approach it as the subject of mobiles feels like it has been done to death. I ruminated for a while, and the more rum I drank, the angrier I got. I tried to explain to the police officer that the rum drinking was absolutely necessary but he seemed to have his own opinion on the matter. The consensus is - we'll let a judge sort it out.

Which has very little to do with mobile phones.

The development of mobile phone services in Australia, and telecommunications generally, has been a bit weird. Not unique, but from what I read it's certainly been different here to many other developed nations. We had a big incumbent government-owned telco (now knows as Telstra) who up until recently (the 90's) ran the entire phone service as a monopoly. At the time I thought this had some pluses and some minuses but in retrospect it seems to have been a shitload of minuses that totally outweighs the pluses.

One of the pluses is coverage being mandated by law where there may not be any commercial incentive to provide coverage. In short, Australia is a big place with lots of empty or almost empty spaces. Phone companies can't make money providing service to people in really remote areas unless they charge them about a million bucks so, unless you're Ayn Rand, it's kind of fair to subsidise rural communities. Another plus is that as new companies entered the market they were forced to make their services totally compatible with other providers. I've heard in the US there can be quite severe connectivity problems between providers and text/sms is basically a no-go.

We don't have that problem so sms has been a big thing here for years. They rates we get charged are absolute bullshit but there is a bit of an issue with the fact that economies of scale that are available in Europe, Asia, and the Americas don't really exist here. As a former prime minister put it, in many ways this is "the arse end of the world." All of which doesn't tell you what I'm angry about.

I've had problems with mobile reception, in fact there's some weird anomaly with my apartment building being this huge old structure with thick walls that cuts off my mobile reception almost completely when I'm at home. But that's never made me particularly angry. What makes me angry is the constant self-interested lying by phone companies. From what I've seen, this problem is world-wide. A few local examples:

It used to be illegal to buy or sell phone handsets that weren't provided by Telstra. This ban was couched in terms of safety and while there are some legitimate safety issues, it was largely bullshit. It was little more than artificial market control and it helped nobody - not even Telstra when you look at the explosion of services available now.

When faxes were new, Telstra convinced everybody you needed a "special" phone line for them. You couldn't use an existing phone line - you had to pay for another line to be installed and it was more expensive to run. More bullshit.

In the early days of the net we came perilously close to having timed local calls "to stop internet users from overloading the phone system". The idea put about by Telstra and the government minister was that people were connecting to the net and (shock, horror!) staying connected for a really long time which would ultimately result in you not getting a dial tone when you picked up the phone because all the lines were busy. BTW, sucks to be you if you do have timed local calls where you live. If this had gone through, it would have strangled internet growth and cost billions in lost business opportunities and productivity. It never went in and surprise, surprise, the phone system never ground to a halt.

Sometimes you have to protect morons from themselves.

We still have really low broadband penetration because it's too fucking expensive. And you'd think by now phone companies would realise how valuable the net was to them and they'd stop fucking around with it. If you want evidence of how depressingly greedy telcos are world-wide, spend a bit of time on the Electronic Frontier Federation's web site, specifically look at the issue of net neutrality.

These scumbags are trying to screw up the internet for everyone while lining their pockets, all the while saying it's their right. Crooks and liars.


Dr. Nazli said...

Oh Mr Angry - see why you are my favourite blogger! I am suitably flattered, of-course.

You will find this funny - here is a reason why I am angry with cell phone reception. I was speaking to a colleague last Thursday, from my apartment.

N: Marcos, could you please change the Asia network simulation run for 30 minutes from T1 to OC12?
M: where?
N: no, simulation, T1 to OC12
M: where, Taiwan?
N: oh my word, Marcos!
M: where? OC?
(i finally made the change myself)

Actually on more serious note, the other day an investigative report found that it was possible to pay to see someone's cell phone records through a 3rd party website. That is definitely cause to be angry.

Oh and have the judge contact me - I'll sort it out charmingly - and check my blog on Tuesday ;-)

zenstar said...

while south africa is nowhere near first world (and sliding backwards at an alarming rate), your telecoms are fantastic compared to ours!
we still have a monopoly that's 38% owned by the government - telcom.
all comms have to go through telcom (so cell companies have to rent their lines and pay them... and the government has shares in all cell companies too).
our local calls are timed and are not cheap.
our broadband access can be 2000% (2 thousand percent) more expensive than developed countries' and 1000% more expensive than other developing countries'.
all broadband access is capped (usually at 3Gb per month).
and it doesn't look like its going to get better anytime soon.
the government also forces the comms industries to provide access to commercially unviable areas for free. so the people paying their bills are also paying someone else's.
they claim a second national operator is in the country, but they are nowhere to be seen.
firstly they have to compete with an entrenched, hostile monopoly. secondly they need to rent lines from that monopoly to get started.
they have yet to provide a single service and i believe that their prices are going to be just as high as they need to break into a dominated market and will need huge fund piles just to start up.
sorry about the long post...
but its a subject that gets my blood boiling (almost as annoying as SA politics... but thats a completely different story)

Jonathan said...

Thanks for stopping by at Bloody Awful Poetry! Great blog you've got here as well - do you know Maddox? Search for "the best page in the universe", I think it'll be your sorta thing. ;-)

J x

Mr Angry said...

Thank you Dr N. I have seen reports on the seling pf phone records too, apparently it is becoming quite a problem in the US.

Zenstar: SO I touched a nerve, eh? Get it all off your chest mate.

Jonathan: Thanks, I enjoyed your blog too. I have seen the Maddox page, I think he's even angrier than me (if such a thing were possible)

moonflake said...

Someone did an interesting comparison: if you want to download 100 gigs of data in SA, it is cheaper to fly to hong kong, download the data at a local internet cafe, and fly back to SA, than it is to do it using SA broadband. Faster, too, by several days.


Mr Angry said...

Moonflake: I haven't seen a more recent study but I know that at least two years ago, the fastest, cheapest, most secure way to move large volumes of data between offices in the same city in the US was the "sneakernet". That is, exactly what you describe - copy it onto media and walk across town with it.

I think it's cheaper to do international transfers by broadband though :)