Quake could leave NZ without internet for months – Orcon boss on Pacific Fibre demise
Orcon CEO Scott Bartlett says New Zealand is left vulnerable by single Southern Cross cable to outside world.
“Then the Japanese tsunami took out four or five international cables” – but the nation was not cut off from the global net for a minute.
By comparison, New Zealand is vulnerable, he says. (A Wall Street Journal report confirms this account, but notes traffic did slowed due to congestion on the remaining links).
“Imagine if the Christchurch quake had taken place in Auckland, where there are just two landings for the Southern Cross cable. New Zealand would be facing a future of no internet for weeks or months.
“How can we possibly tolerate running a modern economy on such a flimsy piece of infrastructure?”
Southern Cross has previously told NBR ONLINE that its twin-cable, figure-eight design minimises the odds of service disruption though natural disaster (although also the cost of maintaining its 25,000km twin loops).
Pacific Fibre also planned to land its single-loop 13,000km cable in Auckland, where the country's main internet exchange is located in the North Shore suburb of Albany (although there was talk for a while about an alternate landing in Wellington).
Another retail ISP boss, Snap's Mark Petrie, didn't have any quake qualms. He noted multiple cables survived both major Canterbury quakes.
But he raised a fresh concern: "I’d second [CallPlus chairman] Malcolm Dick's comment around the MTBF [mean time before failure] of 15 years on Southern Cross. It's quite a frightening prospect."
If Southern Cross lost its connections at Takapuna and Whenuapai, "there would be no option for satellite capacity in my opinion. Maybe for essential services, but residential broadband would come to a very quick halt".
Price concern once dust has settled
Mr Bartlett also had concerns about the price of international bandwidth, which in turn has a big influence on data caps (given most sites we access are offshore, typically in the US).
“It would be political suicide for Southern Cross to turn around and lift prices five minutes after Pacific Fibre dies,” he says.
“But medium to long term, I’m a lot more concerned.”
Snap boss Mr Petrie was less concerned on that point.
"All the leases are quite long term, and they have publicly said they are not going to jack up the prices, I do believe that," he said.
(Pacific Fibre acknowleged the incumbent favoured locking ISPs into 10-year bandwidth contracts – but said fast expanding broadband use meant they would have to keep coming back to the table to buy more capacity.)
"I can confirm that it will not all affect our pricing, if anything I do expect that over time data allowances will still go up," Mr Petrie said.
"Don’t get me wrong though, I’d always like to see more competition in the submarine cable market and it is really disappointing that Pacific Fibre is not going ahead."
Answer on Orcon's doorstep?
This morning NBR asked Orcon’s parent company, Crown-owned Kordia, if it would re-animate its plan for a transtasman cable.
The situation was being reviewed; it was too early to say, a spokeswoman said.
Will Mr Bartlett be agitating? (And conspiracy theorists will be wondering at this point if Kordia's transtasman cable plan had any bearing on Orcon's failure to sign on the dotted line with Pacific Fibre.)
“I don’t mind who does it – it could be Kordia, it could be someone else – I just want someone to build another cable,” he told NBR.
Orcon was not an anchor Pacific Fibre customer.
The ISP had had conversations with the start-up but, unlike Vodafone, CallPlus and Australia's iiNet, had yet to sign on the bottom line.
"They were very focussed on trying to raise foreign equity from what I can tell."
The demise of Pacific Fibre "is so sad," Mr Barlett says. "For two years we believed we would see lower data prices and improved national redundancy ... something's got to be done."