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In 2002, Waiheke Island had no broadband. Dial-up was as good as it got. Island resident and IT (information technology) corporate specialist Mark Andrew-Neil, approached Telecom to ask that Waiheke receive broadband. He was told if he could sign up 15 potential users, Telecom would roll it out. He got 20. Telecom said "make it 50". He got 65. After a while, Mark concluded that Telecom was not serious. So, he decided to try a different approach. With the slogan, "It's not good enough" a group of internet users came together on Waiheke Island.
Mark explained: "If 100 high speed internet users pay $100 a month, that is $10,000 a month in purchasing power." Mark said "I work in the corporate sector, and half of that amount buys a corporate network far faster than anything being offered to the consumers in New Zealand. "Think of internet speed as a pipeline where the closer you get to the sides of the pipe the more turbulence there is and the slower things run. Well, at the edges of the internet pipeline are the dial up modem users… 56 K lines that on the bottom end of Waiheke can get as slow as 28K. Next to them you have the consumer grade ADSL services…real life experience shows 128-512K speeds, in part because of "latency" (a technical term for internet turbulence). At the middle of the pipeline where the speeds are superfast, 2,000K +/- upload and download, you have the corporate clients, who might pay $5,000 for their service with no data-cap charges."
“So on the ferry boat a number of us high speed internet users were chatting, the usual complaints about having to go to town at least twice a week to use our corporate high speed lines, and in short order we realised we had enough people to band together as a single networked customer… a decentralised corporation, for lack of a better word. Instead of dealing as individuals trying to buy services from mega-corporations… Telecom, Clear, Walker-wireless, whatever, we would come together and form an incorporated society to buy collectively an All-Waiheke internet service.” “We met a few times, did some due diligence to make sure it was technically possible for corporate level service to be purchased here on an island, and the answers came up right. The answers did however point to capping membership at 100 users, because these kinds of systems hit a capacity limit and to go to, say 500 users require a different infrastructure.” “So we set up a web site (www.slownet.com) where the first 100 people went to register. When it hit 100, they called a meeting, established as Slownet, and floated the RFP (request for proposal) to the service providers of corporate level Internet services.” Initially, the project came under the umbrella of Renaissance Aotearoa Foundation, a charitable trust based on Waiheke.
Why "Slownet"? In part because of the sign at the car ferry, "Slow Down - You're Here" and in part because the domain name was available, and folks on Waiheke have a dry sense of humour.
Barry Hastings, recently retired Managing Director of Hewlett Packard New Zealand agreed to be the Slownet chair, the law firm of Russell McVeagh donated $10,000 of legal work to establish WAIHEKE ISLAND COMMUNICATIONS SOCIETY INCORPORATED, an incorporated society and two committees were established... technical and marketing. Technical focused on the details, marketing on both enrolling applicants and making a much bigger noise than the project merited. When the TUANZ newsletter did a major Slownet story, the community-owned broadband project became the subject of discussion throughout the industry.
Then Bill Kaspar of Ruralnetworks.co.nz joined the group and presented the Machiavellian strategy.
Despite the enthusiasm of the technical committee, he said, it was unlikely that Slownet would be able to raise the funds required to install a wireless backbone. However, the stir Slownet was making was having an effect on Telecom. Fearful that they would lose the market, they put Waiheke at the top of their list, reportedly buying up capacity on the oversized fibre-optic line that the power company had run to Waiheke to control their substation and devoting technical teams to rush broadband to the island. Bill described it in colourful language "they are running all over the place like a bunch of hamsters, going crazy with fear that Slownet will lock them out of a market that previously they treated like dirt".
In addition to Telecom, ICONZ responded, investing in a wireless network and in the process hiring some of the key members of the technical committee. From no broadband and no prospects, Waiheke now had two competitors moving forward.
The executive committee saw this was a good strategy, given that they agreed it was likely that the technical committee's plans would not be marketable. While community-owned broadband might be a desirable outcome, the pragmatic goal remained the same... get faster internet on Waiheke. So the publicity continued. In August 2002, Auckland City Council released PROBE funds to move broadband to Waiheke and Great Barrier. Soon Telecom and ICONZ were congratulating themselves on thwarting Slownet and picking off their customers.
Eventually, Slownet wound down, it's job complete as broadband came to the island. Later ICONZ decided to leave and it sold its infrastructure to YNET, run by the same team who had been part of the Slownet Technical Team. YNET later became Gulf Internet, still run by the same team. Telecom became Spark and Chorus, with Chorus managing the ADSL network. Many years later the government funded fibre-optic broadband and 4G speeds became available on smart phones. Slownet became a forgotten name, and as of 2019, https://www.domainmarket.com/buynow/slownet.com is offering the domain name for sale for $39,888 USD, a long way from the $10 price the committee paid in 2002.
This history was taken from the 2002 archives still resident on ex-slownet directors personal computers, and has been recorded in a place where it may be of value to historians in the future, when they write about the technology revolution at the turn of the 21st century. CL
See this link for the TUANZ news letter story https://photos.app.goo.gl/SJaQfWc3Kqy1uUoW7