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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 12 October 2018, 5:14 pm

A national disgrace

News that almost all of the sub-contractors employed by the contractors employed by Chorus to build the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) network are exploiting their workers in one form or another has tarnished what should have been a world-class operation.

It was clear from the very beginning that Chorus (initially the network arm of Telecom) had under cooked its bid for the UFB regions and that it was struggling.

The initial months of the build were marred with stories of delay, expense, of poor communication with customers, of unhappy home owners and plenty more besides.

Chorus started work in the leafy green suburbs of inner-city Auckland, perhaps not the wisest place to test out new techniques and new processes. They could have dug up the footpaths on my street and reinstated them with an open pit and some planks and most of the residents would have seen it as an improvement, but no - Chorus had to start in Ponsonby and other well-heeled areas where residents apparently were more distressed by the thought of the footpaths being dug up than they were eager to see fibre to the door.

It went downhill from there.

The first few years of the build demonstrated a clear difference between Chorus's capabilities and those of the other local fibre companies, who were not only rolling out fibre more quickly but were also connecting more properties and offering a better installation process.

I personally watched a Northpower crew connect a house to fibre in under two hours - from the box on the pole to an external connection point, then on to the internal connection point. There was no arguing with the home owner about how far from the road the connection would be - an extra coil of fibre was included with the connection in case they wanted it moved later on. Compare that with Chorus and its unwillingness to connect houses at the rear of a section because they were deemed "non-standard" and you could see daylight between the two deployments.

And then there were the horror stories.

Connections stapled to fence lines. Gardens dug up. The legendary auger punched through the middle of a wall, and also through the sliding door inside the wall.

To top it all off, Chorus had the audacity to put up its hand and demand an extra $600 million to complete the project, although once EY was brought in to review its sums, the company suggested Chorus had more than enough tucked away and if it just got on with the job at hand it would be able to get it done without too much more excitement.

Now, when we look across the Tasman at the farce that is the NBN deployment, we can no longer smugly suggest that Kiwi Know How delivered a better result.

It wasn't Kiwi Know How at all - it was shoddy labour practices, cut-price workers brought to New Zealand with the promise of visas, minimal training and support and wages that would make an independent courier driver red-faced with embarrassment.

Chorus has started an internal inquiry and hired someone to have a look at what could possibly have gone wrong.

I trust they'll be given access to the Telco Carrier Forum minutes from about seven years ago because I distinctly remember raising the question of training for the UFB deployment and being told it was all well in hand.

Apparently that meant passing the responsibility on to contracting companies who passed on the country's largest network deployment since the introduction of electricity or running water to lowest-bid contractors.

Hardly the Kiwi way at all.

RNZ - Exploitative Chorus sub-contractors 'promising visas'

Techblog - UFB contractors breach employment standards: MBIE

NZ Herald - Chorus hires independent investigator after subbie exploitation claims

Newshub - Chorus subcontractors 'exploiting' migrant employees

Computerworld - Almost all Chorus broadband subcontractors breaching employment standards

Otago Daily Times - Chorus broadband subcontractors 'breaching labour laws'

NZ Herald - Why Chorus shares rose to near all-time high amid MBIE's subbie exploitation claims

EY report - Independent Assessment of Chorus' Financial Position (December 2013)


Zen Security Koan

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Similarly, if a social network closes its doors but nobody uses it, should anyone care?

The answer is probably yes, because while nobody I know actually used Google+, the idea that Google would find a security flaw but then hide that news from its users for several months is too loud a story to ignore.

Google found the flaw in Google+ in March and promptly fixed it. While the bug had been embedded in the code since 2015, it was its actions after the discovery that count. Instead of telling its user base (nearly half a million are estimated to have been impacted), Google kept quiet because its mortal enemy Facebook was at that time in the centre ring defending itself against accusations of its own shoddy security practices alongside Cambridge Analytica. Someone at Google HQ had probably read the adage about never interrupting an enemy when they're making a mistake and thought "we'll stand back".

Unfortunately, while expedient in the short term, this decision has cost Google (sorry, Alphabet) any moral high ground it may have had in the ensuing debate on privacy and, if the US government can fit them in, no doubt will result in Google executives having to explain themselves before a hearing or two.

How the EU handles this will also be interesting, given the introduction of the GDPR with its mandatory reporting laws.

We of course don't have such mandatory reporting in New Zealand just yet, but once the Privacy Act is re-written I would hope it will include some fairly eye-watering provisions for this kind of cavalier approach to user privacy.

Wall St Journal - Google Exposed User Data, Feared Repercussions of Disclosing to Public

NY Times - Google Plus Will Be Shut Down After User Information Was Exposed

NZ Herald - Google Plus to close after bug leaks personal information

Marketplace - Is the Google Plus data breach a threat to Google's business?



I've just had to report yet another muppet for abuse, but I doubt much will happen to them.

At most their social media account may be suspended temporarily, possibly even permanently. That never stops them - they set up another and carry on regardless.

I've been subject to cyber-bullying myself, and while I make fun of it now at the time it was mortifying. I'm not going to link to the content, but someone with no scruples decided the best thing he could do is scare a lot of old people about why I was stealing their retirement savings, and give them my phone number to call. It was all around the Copper Tax and Chorus's begging for more money. It affected their share price and so of course, that meant old dears should ring me to tell me off.

One dear old couple did.

I try to be polite but it was clear they didn't want to listen to me explain why I wasn't stealing their retirement savings (I wasn't, honest). Eventually I did explain the reasons why TUANZ and I (and ITP and InternetNZ, and Consumer and countless other organisations) were arguing with Chorus about the price and they seemed to get it but frankly it was a good hour of time on a Saturday that would better have been spent mowing the lawn, or having a barium enema, frankly.

These days it seems the fun has mostly gone out of social networks. Unless you curate your followers, that is. I spend quite some time trimming, muting, blocking and generally disengaging from those whose only reason for being seems to be to pick a fight.

Initially I was concerned that this would leave me in a bubble, a consensus-cluster of like-minded folk, but that's not the case. I follow plenty of people that I disagree with and often engage in useful and entertaining discussions with them.

But the cyber-bullies (there are other words for them, but this is a family show so let's use that one) aren't interested in improving anyone's world view, they're only interested in harassing and debasing people they scarcely know.

Netsafe has published a report into the impacts of cyber-bullying (the real stuff, not old dears ringing me up at home) and even before you take into account the flow-on effects of time off work, of having friends and family spend time with you to support you, without the impact on your own ability to get on, the cost is a staggering $444 million a year.

It's worth reviewing your own company's policies with regard to this kind of behaviour. There's a lot going on that isn't all right, that simply isn't acceptable and it's high time we stopped turning a blind eye. It's time to be intolerant of intolerance.

RNZ - Cyber bullying: The growing menace costing NZ $444m

Newshub - Cyberbullying costing New Zealand $444 million a year - NetSafe

NZ Herald - The true cost of cyberbullying to NZ: $444m each year

NZ Herald - Lizzie Marvelly on cyber bullying: a 'tidal wave' of online attacks 


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