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About being online in Fiji

    Disclaimer: This has become a historical document, meaning: Many things in here reflect my sentiments at the time I was writing them. Most of those were out of frustration. And not much has changed, it is getting a bit better, but still far behind the rest of the world ... But over time you get a feeling of who is trying and who is not to actually help the average internet customer.

I keep getting asked about the online connection down here ... well .. i try to give a quick overview ...

Fiji is connected to Australia / New Zealand and the US via the Southern Cross Cable. This article is a bit misleading though ... it make it sound as if that cable actually offers what it can offer ... well .. trouble is, is that the "owner" of that connection is Fintel which again is a subsidiary of Fiji Telecom, which is controlled by the government ... Now .. what does that mean in english ... Fintel owns the cake and is giving out mini pieces to the retail market (people like me) and sells big chunks to the industry ... just recently Quest openened a call center here ... and Fiji is all proud and calls itself leading in IT.

Anyhoo ... for Joe internet user it looks pretty grim. There is only ONE internet service provider connect which offers unreliable 28.8 modem connections. They have several plans depending how many hours per month you think you will use .. I think it starts at 13F$ (7US$) for 3 hours (who can live with 3 hours ???) and goes up to 40 hours !!! that's it !!! 40 hours for 94F$ (50US$)... that is the "small businesses" plan ... every hour above that is 5F$ (2.50US$). (so, some offices have chosen to rather buy 4 of those plans to have enough hours for a whole month). Did I mention a 30F$ (15US$) setup fee ?

    update 2/1/03: Connect has added 2 new plans: one is 170 hours for 250 US$ and 340 hours for 500 US$ !!! What is really weird is that this means an actually higher per hour rate than compared to the 40 hour plan. Makes no sense to me. It also seems these days that dialing in over the weekends is close to impossible. Want to relive the frustrating experience? Download this busy signal, disconnect your cable modem, and play the sound 50 times ...

In addition you have local phone rates which is 11cent per call (well, 50cent from the hotel room). Also you have fun things like busy line and suddenly disconnects ... yippieh ... even though it is supposed to be 28.8 , which means a download should go with 2.7 K .. it only has 1.2 K most of the time ..

There was an old "unlimited" plan, which is not being offered anymore, but a generous friend borrows me access to it some times ... that plan is a joke too ... autodisconnect after 1 hour ... and something about "if you make the top 10 list of users, you get thrown off more often" or something ... this plan also has it's own access number which is constantly busy !!!

So ... although the technology exists, there is no real getting to it ... Fintel operates an internet kiosk and charges there 11 cents a minute ... allegedly it is pretty fast .. only catch is that I cannot connect my own computer there ... so .. no good ...

    update I tried the place and it sucks. 9F$ per hour, windows PCs only, basic software like FTP clients not installed, and I just got 2 mp3s in that one hour. The time you need to burn it on CD is part of your online time (after your time is up, you cannot do anything on the machine). Very very bad.

The government is protecting Fintel (since some overseas investors have tried several times to rush into this market here) and gives out very few exemptions ... like for the University here, they are allowed to use a satellite connection (everyone else using this is doing so illegally.

One big embassy here just dials into their sister embassy's highspeed connection in AUSTRALIA ... they must have a great phone bill !!!!

There is talk from time to time that some company tries to weasel its way around the jurisdiction and will try something ... but as long as the gov here is hardline about it, i see little chance .... rumor has it they want to open up the market a bit in 2 years ... GRRRRR

I'd be happy with unlimited 56K for now ... without auto disconnect ... and judging the news reports, they have the bandwidth to spare ... but they have no incentive to do so, since they are without any competition ... bummer

    Addition:Another variation of annoyance is that sometimes you may get a connection ... but the only websites you can get are the ones in Fiji. Nothing else .. no chat, no email, no real websites, no FTP ...
update 6/10/03 Ok .. some time has passed and some stuff has happened .. but bottomline, it has not gotten much better: 2 months ago fintel lowered their pricing and Connect relayed that to their customers .. in general everything got 20% cheaper ... a step in the right direction, but we are still far away from real online freedom. 2 weeks ago I got ISDN, what they call "high speed" here ... first of all, it costs a lot: 299F$ (150US$) to connect and then 125F$ (62US$) to Telecom ... the start up telecom cost is something like 800F$ (400US$) for having it all setup and the crap ISDN modem they give you. This modem is from the last century and only sports a serial and a USB connection. No ethernet ... so .. instead of being able to plug that int a router, I have to ground one of my laptops to become that router. Next headache is that those Telecom guys forgot to rewire other phone appliances in the house, including the alarm system. This causes that every time I arm the house, the whole phone system goes dead ... And I called telecom about that 4 times so far .. and nothing has happened ... But want to know the biggest joke??? This account is restricted to 500MB data transfer per month!!!! That is 16.67 MB per day ... If you ever check your consumption you will see that one hour of just email and surfing will yield 6 MB or more ... so .. while there is no time limit, you are basically back to 3 hours a day .. and there is no downloading or anything in that yet ... I have never been so thorough in checking my connection log and adding my bytes ... The ISP has yet to offer some tool so you can monitor that usage ... otherwise you have a very bad surprise when the bill comes (each extra MB you use is .60 F$ = 30cents .. makes you think twice if an mp3 is encoded in 128 or 192 kps ... a 6 MB song is like 2$ US !!!) ... They DO have something to monitor, but that is not public yet, so I put the nice guy from Tech-Support on my iChat buddy list and I pester him every morning "what was yesterday's damage?" Last but not least: Mac support stinks ... although the manual of the ISDN moden claims to be mac friendly, there are no drivers for mac on the CD ... and support staff so far on both ends, while trying to be very helpful, are just not trained on macs (if trained at all) ... it seems that I am the first 'retail' customer on a mac here ... The adventure continues !!!