Update Dec 5: The promise of data heaven turned into data hell for some TelstraClear customers over the weekend.
A limitless broadband promotion saw NZ's second largest ISP lift data caps on all residential plans from 6pm Friday to midnight Sunday.
Customers responded by ramping up their internet use, from downloading video to online gaming - or at least they tried to.
Sunday evening, TelstraClear spokeswoman Diane Robertson told NBR the promotion had been, on balance, a positive, "We correctly predicted that with so many people taking advantage of the weekend, some users would experience slow speeds. We acknowledge this was frustrating for some. However, we believe it has been very successful."
Asked if he agreed with TelstraClear's analysis, InternetNZ boss Vikram Kumar said, "Absolutely not. For customers, it's been disastrous."
InternetNZ administer's local website address on behalf of the global internet body ICANN and lobbies on behalf of users.
Mr Kumar's personal connection slowed to a fifth of its usual speed. Judging by NBR reader comments (below), a heated discussion thread on Geekzone, and chatter to TelstraClear's Twitter account, many shared his frustration.
Rather than gorging on all-you-can-eat data, many were simply waiting for the weekend to end. Some rumbled about making complaints under the Consumer Guarantees Act over what they called unusable service (TelstraClear has yet to comment on whether it thinks any form of compensation is warranted.)
Repeat would "lose customers"
"If TelstraClear repeats this experiment they are going to lose many customers," Mr Kumar told NBR last night.
"The only 'success' has been to put data caps and issues related to demand-side management in the spotlight."
TelstraClear head of consumer Steve Jackson said the jury was out on a re-run.
"High demand did slow speeds and create congestion for some. While the proportion of customers experiencing issues was small, we understand the frustration of those who experienced poor performance," Mr Jackson said.
"We will be evaluating all feedback before any decision is made on future unmetered weekends."
TelstraClear chokes as all-you-can-eat weekend kicks off
UPDATE Dec 3: TelstraClear's unlimited broadband weekend got off to a literally slow start.
InternetNZ boss Vikram Kumar said his TelstraClear cable connection was "almost unusable" last night (the ISP's all-you-can-eat weekend kicked off 6pm Friday).
"Nearly died for many people"
Mr Kumar, who was monitoring social network chatter about the promotion, told NBR that broadband connections "nearly died for many people."
Early yesterday evening the InternetNZ chief executive quickly slid from anticipation of "#dataheaven" to sarcastically thanking TelstraClear for "munting" his account.
This morning, it was better news. Mr Kumar reported his connection was back to its normal speed, but on websites and social networks, complaints continued to flow.
Mr Kumar told NBR he usually gets 9Mbit/s to 10Mbit/s download speed from TelstraClear.
Yesterday, that dropped below 2Mbit/s and, at the point of this speed-test screen grab, 1.7Mbit/s:
One TelstraClear customer told NBR his connection fell to 0.2Mbit/s.
Another complained, "Frustrating last night. Tried to watch a short video clip and it buffered every second - gave up."
NBR was unable to load TelstraClear's home page this morning.
TelstraClear consumer head Steve Jackson responded that, "Our free broadband weekend is proving incredibly popular. As we predicted, the high numbers of people taking advantage of this opportunity to make the most of their internet will inevitably slow speeds and create some congestion.
"We expect this to be intermittent as demand ebbs and flows and understand the frustrations this may cause for some. Our technicians continue to monitor the network 24/7 and we'll be considering all feedback in our review."
A key issue is that much of New Zealand's internet traffic is cross-border, both from people accessing offshore sites, and domestic data that gets routed via LA due to the politics of "peering" traffic between providers.
Right now, New Zealand has a single link with the outside world, the 50% Telecom-owned Southern Cross Cable (which falls under the 'new' Telecom rather than Chorus post-separation - giving the "retail" focussed "new" Telecom control over wholesale international bandwidth).
Pacific Fibre is in the processing of raising funds for a new cable between Australia, New Zealand and the US.
One of the cable's backers, entrepreneur Rod Drury, told NBR this morning: "I don't know what the bottleneck is on TelstraClear but we do know that 90%-plus of content is from the US, so these unmetered weekends are probably going to crippled by our overseas connections."
For basic websites, the problem could probably be solved by better "caching" (ISPs storing local copies of popular sites), Mr Dury said.
But, "The realtime web - video conferencing, online demonstrations and meetings can't be cached so we see that as key productivity inhibitor which affects trade."
Mr Dury added, "I recently upgraded my FX Networks/Unison Fibre connection from 10MB to 100MB and haven't noticed any speed improvement. I think that proves opening up international is key to improving the NZ internet experience.
"Without opening up international, ADSL+ over copper with good upstream fibre to the cabinet and reduced contention would be fine in 99% of residential environments. Therefore fibre-to-the-home appears to be a wasted investment if international is not substantially opened up."
Added industry commentator Lance Wiggs, "It shows just how much pent up demand there is from families and businesses for capacity, which is an opportunity for ISPs which will only become greater as Ultrafast Broadband comes online."
Pacific Fibre chief executive Mark Rushworth struck a diplomatic tone, telling NBR, "TelstraClear should be applauded for this innovated pricing special. It reminds me of the first $5 calling weekend Telecom offered in the early 90s. They had some initial capacity planning problems but it changed the nature of how people made national calls.
"Let's all hope this is an industry step towards higher data caps for all."
TelstraClear braces for all-you-can-eat weekend
Nov 28: Our second largest internet service provider, TelstraClear, says it will allow unlimited internet use this weekend (6pm on Friday December 2 until midnight on Sunday December 4). Customers will be able to browse, downloaded video and otherwise surf the web without worrying about any data being counted toward their monthly cap.
It's a naked PR stunt.
Yet it will also be intriguing to see how the ISP's network stands up to unfettered use.
TelstraClear admits there's likely to be some degree of slow down.
In a statement, head of consumer markets Steve Jackson said, "TelstraClear knows that this weekend will be very popular. With lots of people online for longer, some customers could experience slower than normal connection speeds."
It will be interesting to see if the traffic glug is mild, medium, or bad (in which case, you'll soon see squeals on Twitter).
A second question: will TelstraClear customers accept some degree of slowdown if they know the upside is un-metered data?
Asked if this weekend was a test of the TelstraClear network's ability to deal with unlimited use, or a precursor to an all-you-can-eat plan, spokesman Gary Bowering told NBR, "It’s not a test. We’re confident that our network will cope well with the demands that may be placed on it. We’ve made no decisions on whether there will be further unmetered weekends."
TelstraClear offers a number of services unmetered, including the Steam gaming service, access to TradeMe's website and video-on-demand from TV3.
A nation under the thumb
All-you-can-eat broadband plans are the norm in most countries, but a recent Statistics NZ survey of ISPs found that 99% of New Zealanders are on internet plans constrained by data caps. Historically, relatively expensive overseas data has been blamed.
Overall, the Statistics NZ survey found the size of the average data cap was increasing.