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9.5.08

A consumer view of residential Internet service in Fiji


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Intro
Let's be honest, Fiji's ISPs have room for improvement. The problem with residential broadband in Fiji is value for money. Value in this case means a combination of 1.) actual, as opposed to promised, speed, 2.) reliability of service, and 3.) monthly data volume. Why is this value lacking?

Wholesale
Last week there was a session on the Southern Cross Cables Network (SCCN) presented by George Samisoni of FINTEL (video of the session is available, thanks to Franck from PICISOC). The three most noteworthy points of the presentation for me were:

  1. FINTEL splits the revenue roughly 50/50 with local ISPs for data transfered. Some undisclosed portion of FINTEL's share then goes to SCCN.
  2. The SCCN is nowhere near its capacity - only money/pricing and the infrastructure between FINTEL and your door is preventing users in Fiji from having faster access to the Internet.
  3. In the new deregulated environment, FINTEL will remain the sole agent for access to the SCCN. This means that FINTEL maintains a practical monopoly on wholesale Internet access until a competitive sea-floor cable is run to Fiji or satellite connections become more reliable and affordable.
What does this mean for Fiji's residential Internet users? It means that competition will only benefit residential consumers through any economic efficiencies that can be made and reliability that can be gained through infrastructure between FINTEL and your doorstep. In other words, there will be no changes in the near future on the wholesale side.

Retail
The following table lays out the current options for residential Internet consumers.

Residential ISP pricing as of May 9, 2008
based on ISP websites supplemented by phone calls to sales reps.







ISPAdvertised speedPrice (rounded off)Usage capSetup costs (rounded off)
Notes
Connect256/128 down/up kbps$403 Gb/mo.$100need a land line

512/256 down/up kbps$903 Gb/mo.$100need a land line
Kidanet128 kbps$504 Gb/mo.$300install visit required

256 kbps$1005 Gb/mo.$400install visit required
Unwired256/128 down/up kbps$50none$100 24 mo.
$200 no contract
burglar bars may cause interference

512/256 down/up kbps$100none$100 24 mo.
$200 no contract
burglar bars may cause interference

There are a number of points of interest on this table:
  • Internet companies lacking commitment to their own website: Kidanet's website is woefully out of date. They are certainly turning potential customers away due to the high startup pricing quoted on their website ($599 for the modem and $99 installation). If you call or go in person, they will quote you the lower pricing that I have provided in the table above and tell you that there is now a data cap. Connect and Unwired both have some minor inconsistencies on their sites as well.


    Kidanet's broadband pricing on their website as of May 9, 2008 - no cap and a very expensive modem

  • All you can eat?: Kidanet's nationwide launch was based on no monthly download limits. Now, only a few months later, they have quietly clamped on limits starting at 4 Gb per month. In response to Kidanet's launch last year, Unwired dropped the monthly download cap that had been in place since at least mid 2006 (when I signed up). Now Unwired's website claims that they have always had no cap. Other than Connect's special After Dark plan, which allows access only on evenings and weekends, Unwired is the only ISP currently offering no download limits. Can they keep it up? The reluctance of ISPs to offer residential customers no limit Internet access is an indication of significant pricing pressure on data volume procured through FINTEL.

    Unwired's dubious claim of "always have been" from their website on May 9, 2008

  • Student plans: All three ISPs offer reduced rates for student users. If you are a student, consider signing up for a rate reduction of up to 20%.
  • Lock in: Both Connect and Unwired have service packages requiring no long term commitment other than the purchase of necessary hardware - although packages with special pricing do require contracts with a term of one year or longer. In contrast, Kidanet requires all users make a two year commitment (the website says three) and the penalty for early cancellation is a painful six months of fees. Increasing customers' switching costs is not an uncommon practice for many service vendors, but it is not a method for forging strong customer relationships.
  • Misleading advertising: All three ISPs advertise attractive data communication speeds, but my informal survey of residential customers of all three vendors reveals that no one sees the advertised speeds for any significant period of time, and others claim that they do not see the advertised speeds at all. In fact all customers that I spoke to claim to have experienced significant episodes of down time. None of the ISPs offer a meaningful service level agreement to residential customers and terms of service small print always reveals that the advertised speeds are nothing more than maximums. It would be invaluable to have a third party carry out customer satisfaction and actual throughput surveys across all major vendors. Based on my informal research, I assume that Kidanet does not offer less for $50 per month as it might appear on paper; rather they are merely more honest than the competition in advertising their residential transfer rates.
Conclusion
I am not confident that deregulation will substantially improve the lot of Internet consumers in Fiji in terms of data transfer rate or cost per packet. Without competition at the upstream or wholesale stage, the opportunity to drive consumer pricing down is severely limited. And, at least for the short term, competition in Fiji is a facade. The ATH Group owns controlling stakes - directly or indirectly - in all of FINTEL, Connect, Kidanet, and Vodafone Fiji. Unwired is the only meaningful competition to the ATH juggernaut. However, increased competitiveness in the future, should it come, is likely to drive an increase in quality of service to residential consumers as vendors will seek non-price related means of differentiation. I look forward to a day when Fijian ISPs' primary method of maintaining customers is through creating an outstanding customer experience rather than relying on switching costs.



Photo by: publicenergy
Diagram by: activeside

16 comments:

Navinesh said...

Great review!

Reading about deregulation and upgrading of SCCN fiber pair from 2.5Gbps to 10Gbps, had surely generated lot of interest/expectations in terms of improvement in Internet services to Fiji. Personally, I was/am expecting increase in quality of service, bandwidth allocation, and that ISPs will eschew limiting users to download caps. And, of course reduction in price.

From the SCCN presentation, the most notable insinuation was the plans to provide Internet access to the rural areas. I know this will not happen overnight, but I am hopeful that this will happen.

thepaul said...

So it has been a long time since I lived in Fiji, but I still have family there and have an interest in getting them better broadband.

What exactly is the relationship between SCCN and FINTEL? Does SCCN explicitly grant them the monopoly because of some kickback, or is FINTEL the only group allowed access to SCCN because of a mandate from the Fiji government?

In other words, is there any possibility that the situation might change given the right encouragement from The People?

thrashor said...

@navinesh: i sincerely hope that someone finds a way to translate the increase capacity to more reliability and bandwidth for less, but i am skeptical. i guess i was a bit of a suva snob - fiji is in great need of internet service to rural areas and smaller urban centres. -cht

thrashor said...

@thepaul: i believe, and someone correct me if i am wrong, that FINTEL simply has a business relationship with SCCN and that FINTEL owns and operates the equipment in the building where the SCCN comes to shore. until there is a competitor to SCCN, FINTEL is the man. -cht

thrashor said...

@thepaul: i believe, and someone correct me if i am wrong, that FINTEL simply has a business relationship with SCCN and that FINTEL owns and operates the equipment in the building where the SCCN comes to shore. until there is a competitor to SCCN, FINTEL is the man. -cht

thepaul said...

So is there something that stops SCCN from running another line into Fiji and doing business with a second partner?

thrashor said...

@thepaul: if SCCN ran a new line to Fiji, the arrangement between FINTEL and SCCN would presumably still stand. What is needed is another cable from another company or an improvement in satellite service and pricing.

Rizwan ud Dean said...

The role of an ISP is to provide quality services at for a price which benefits both consumer and the service provider (SP).
I have watched the ISP industry grow from a little nothing to something over the years - sadly, the principle of providing that service with quality has not - it has gotten worse.

Kidanet began at a time when the general populace was clamoring for the blood of Connect Fiji and Unwired was considered far too useless to be taken seriously as an ISP. My initial thoughts about that company still stand - I do not foresee it being a success now or in the future, regardless of its claimed unlimited usage. Their service is just as atrocious as it was when they first began if not better.

Kidanet was supposed to have been the savior of the quandary Internet users were facing at the time – could I have been wrong that Kidanet is/was a good service provider when it advertized a no frills package all for the low price of $50/month? If your comments are true as they have been written Chris, then I am truly disappointed. I had not expected FINTEL to have introduced data caps for its packages and not made this news public – this is the work of cowards and the work of a company which will soon have its reputation and fame relegated to the same level of scorn and contempt we show Connect Fiji.

Have the people of this country absolutely no say in whether it is right for ISP’s to rip customers off with shoddy packages which are available for less than ¾ of the price we pay for it here? Could it be possible that Fiji’s hype and all the noise it’s been making about embracing ICT has been merely that – noise? It is a sad day for the people of this country when many struggle to put food on their tables without having dodgy ISP’s such as Connect and Kidanet tweaking their agreements quietly and then stiffing us with outrageous packages for atrocious charges.

After reading your article, I sincerely hope that the stakeholders involved in these ramifications realize that I am absolutely disgusted with them and their attitude that ripping customers off is a normal practice – while I realize that a company needs to make a profit, I strongly object to that profit being made by ripping off hard-working customers who struggle to make ends meet.

Perhaps the technical/financial analysts are right – who wants to do business in Fiji when no one cares about offering you value for your money?

I hope if any sane minded stakeholder who has the power to make changes in the ISP industry reads this, they have the decency to end their life out of shame.

thrashor said...

@rizwan: thank you for the thoughtful reply. you should post it on your own blog! i just gave kidanet a phone call to ask again about the data cap and received a confusing answer. i am trying to get to the bottom of it...

laminar_flow said...

At least the media are slowly covering the issue. Check out Fiji Island Business article.

Anonymous said...

kidanet has removed all Data Caps. Please update the price table

thrashor said...

@anonymous: it does appear that kidanet has updated their website to reiterate "no data cap". however, their acceptable use policy still lists "high bandwidth usage" as a violation without providing any guidance on how much bandwidth is excessive in a given period of time.

i will not be updating my post to reflect changes in kidanet or any other vendor's pricing or policies. the post was accurate on the date that it was published.

-cht

thrashor said...

for the sake of evenhandedness, i notice that unwired's terms and conditions contain similar statements about excessive usage without defining the term, all the while advertising no caps.

-cht

Anonymous said...

the reason kidanet has acceptable user policy becoz some people use to buy resi package and then make money out of it. if you wnt to use kidanet for selling DVD's, running a online game center than jst get a corporate package. Kidanet is not ripping customer's off by givin unlimited download but some people want to rip kidanet off. It's UNLIMITED download as long as you are honest.

Oilei. said...

ok.
But for now,
Which do you think is good to get?
Kidanet? Connect? or Unwired?

thrashor said...

@oilei: that is the million dollar question, my friend...