Tuesday, 11 June 2013 - 11:33am

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Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 11/06/2013 - 11:33am

I'm getting drawn into arguments on Hugh Saddleton's blog. This way madness lies:

“Is it that the NBN should be cancelled [...]?”

Too late for that. Most likely we will have to complement it with municipal mesh WiFi to make up for it’s deliberate deficiencies. I’m sure Paul can help there.

“[...] how could we run our own email servers, web servers etc, and who’s going to pay for it?”

We’d run our own servers the same way we run our own cars. Don’t know about you, but I know how to fill up the petrol tank, the tires, and the thing that squirts water on the windscreen, and that’s the extent of my automotive expertise. As computer systems and network services become more integrated with our daily lives, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have as many system administrators, programmers, etc. in Coffs Harbour as we have auto mechanics. How much better for the local economy to meet those needs here, instead of sending money out of the LGA, and usually out of the country?

For under $100, and rapidly falling, you can get little (around 10cm x 10cm) computers that plug into your wall socket, and consume negligible amounts of power. They do ethernet, WiFi, etc, and have specs comparable to mid-range commercial hosting plans for web, email, etc. services. So that’s a one-off $100 for hardware resources instead of hundreds of dollars per year at a commercial hosting service in the US (generally much more in Australia), and all the software required is available free (as in freedom, and as in cost).

“Will we need fibre broadband to do this?”

As I said, routing all traffic through a small number of Points Of Interconnect is a significant inefficiency, but the big problem is that even the NBN plans from ISPs are still throttling upstream traffic (data from you to the outside world) to a fraction of the speed of downstream traffic (data from Facebook, YouTube, et. al. to you). This seems harmless if you assume that our place on the Internet is that of passive consumers of services delivered by a handful of multinational corporations. It also allows ISPs to do market segmentation; delivering “enterprise” upstream speeds at a ridiculous premium over their real value.

You may be able to get away with running a web and email server for a small business on one of the pricier plans for plebs, but voice or video are out of the question. You can readily understand why Telstra and Optus would not want us running our own phone services. Also, since email and web hosting (not to mention landline and mobile phone services) are often part of telco-ISP “bundles” (or “horizontal integration” as a regulator might put it), you can also see why they wouldn’t want those services becoming cottage industries or DIY.

“Matthew, as you are someone who hosts websites”

Actually, I don’t. My hosting provider is in the US, where bandwidth is cheap and plentiful. Which is my point. It’s ludicrous and totally unnecessary for organisations in Coffs Harbour to communicate with their clients (mostly in Coffs Harbour) via a server farm on the other side of the world.

“[...] and makes his living from the internet”

I have never made anything anybody could reasonably call “a living” from the Internet. I live in Coffs Harbour, where work isn’t valued unless it’s done in a flouro vest and safety shoes.

“When the internet goes down, as it does from time to time, who would I call?”

With a redundant packet-switching network (as the Internet, but not the NBN, is designed to be), there is no single point of failure to go down. Say there’s only one cable between Sawtell and Coffs and someone slices through it with a backhoe. The network can see that that link is down and route traffic through Kempsey, Armidale, Glen Innes, Grafton, and thence Coffs until the shorter route is repaired. Unless the cable that’s cut, or the router that’s blown, is the one between you and the kerb, there’s always another route; unlike the NBN, where there’s effectively one line between you and the nearest junction box, one line between that and the next junction box upstream, and so on to the Point Of Interconnect to the real Internet.