Sermon from the mouse

Good morning, I am Reverend Squatter and my sermon today is internet connectivity and the computers used to connect to the internet here in Dili.

I am really preaching to Steve Ballmer (Microsoft CEO) and to those techies who have 24 Mbps (mega bits per second) broadband links piped into their homes. When you have a whole country running on a single 2 Mbps link to the world, (Houston) we have a problem.

I have several different email addresses, only one of which do I pay for. For reasons I dare not guess, the worst of them for spam is the paid one. About a month ago, I was being assassinated by spam emails and when you are on the end of a modem link, this is not good. Even though they did have anti-spam software in place, it clearly was not working too well. Then they announced they were stepping up the aggressiveness of their anti-spam strategy. Spam emails dropped to about a tenth. I was mighty pleased. I know there are people out there who insist that every single email addressed to them MUST be delivered. I guess these are the 24Mbps guys who want to train their anti-spam software to be on the cutting edge of accuracy. But I am more than happy to see this stuff culled before it is delivered over the wire.

With my blog, I have discovered the brave new world of spam blogging. This arrives as “comment spam”. Over the last few weeks, comment spam has been slowly increasing to the point where it cracked over 100 per day. Over a slow link, each and every one of those comments is downloaded for me to decide which one is from a human. This was blowing me out of the water. I have sinced mucked around with anti-spam stuff and I do not get any comment spam anymore (neither do I get any comments from anyone !).

I am pretty anal when it comes to keeping my Windows system up-to-date with Microsoft updates and virus signature updates. Didn’t I just love the last Microsoft Tuesday – 41 Mbytes of updates. Took 4.5 hours. Although it depends on your modem access plan through Timor Telecom, at about 5 cents per minute, that’s US$13-50 just to do the Microsoft updates. So in any month, the Microsoft updates and virus updates (and anti-spyware updates for that matter) are costing not only 4 to 6 hours of time, but probably cost as much as a monthly broadband connection charge in other parts of the world.

The best you can possibly do here is pay over US$700 per month for a permanent 128kbps connection.

Most businesses/organisations with a connection will go for either one of these permanent connections or insanely, get a digital service through Timor Telecom at a rate of over US$2000 per month. Basically, no-one gets more than 128kbps or in a few cases, 256kbps. Because of the monopoly position that Timor Telecom holds, only foreign embassies (and probably the UN and the like) are permitted to get around this monopoly. They go for satellite which I understand is significantly cheaper.

The point is that there are a number of organisations with say 50 pcs networked through a 128kbps connection to the internet. Now, if you have every pc doing automatic updates of everything, you have a problem. And if you were trying to save money, you would have them all turned off overnight. You would only leave them on if you had the money for the electricity and a generator to fill in for the many power cuts and UPSes to manage the cut-over time to the generator and to smooth out the erratic voltage. All that generator stuff raises the bar financially.

Far easier to turn off all your pcs and at 8:30am each morning, everyone gets onto the internet to get their mail and everyone’s updates start kicking in and you end up going for early morning tea. So you either put running your business on hold or turn off automatic updating. Microsoft Update Tuesday could become a national holiday here OR you just don’t do it.

Mr. 24Mbps probably says “ha ha, what you need is Microsoft’s update server”. Well, no-one likes paying Microsoft anything here and adding yet another layer of complexity is probably beyond most organisations here.

Need steak knives ? There’s more.

So the well run organisation probably has someone running around all day with a USB memory key applying updates. The not so well run one has probably given up. The next problem is the user. If organisations had “acceptable use policies” for use of the pcs and the internet AND they were adhered to, then another big problem would go away.

Your typical Timorese can not afford a pc and to be on the internet at home, would need a fixed line phone just to get started on the internet. Only the elite have this. So for many, a pc is either at an internet cafe (ie gaming parlour) or at a workplace. So you do all your private stuff at work if you can. (Note that there are many expats in this category as well.) You download email, porn, music, video and inevitably piles of viruses. Timor is virus heaven (but thanks to my analness, I remain clean as a whistle at home).

In a country where thanks to the telecomms monopoly, internet charges are actually going up, what is it going to be like when typical monthly updates are running at 200 Mbytes per month. And who knows just how much the spam load is ?

I welcome any comments on anything I have raised here over tea and biscuits on the front porch where I will be conducting “how to be anal” lessons.

Here endeth the lesson

2 thoughts on “Sermon from the mouse

  1. Hi,

    Have read some of your stuff since I ran into your blog this morning.Its the mostuptodate stuff on Timor available on the net. I have been trying to learn about Timor leste ever since my appointment with UN for six months starting December second week. Your account about internet services and much else is interesting but not inspiring. The info about accommodation available in Dili is precious little. Would it be feasible to operate out of a hotel or better to rent a place. Infact are there decent places availablefor say up to $ 500 a month. Thanks once again for your persistent and Dili-gent effort. Cheers. Herman.

  2. Maybe I should go and speak to Gino who heads the Timor-Leste Tourism Association. It would take me a fair bit of time to fill in accommodation options, but I am no different to anyone who lives in a place when someone asks “which hotel to stay in ?”

    Many expats operate out of hotels but you are looking at over US$1500 per month in most cases. Some have small kitchenettes, most do not. There are a number of serviced apartment-like places which may have kitchenettes and cleaning services for US$800 to US$1000. Take away the cleaning services etc. and gardening etc. and you can be on your own for US$500 per month but modest quality. Phone services and provision of a generator to cover for power cuts are extra costs which may or may not be offered. I only know these things from acquaintances, not because I have done an intensive survey.

    I am not you, so how can I tell you whether you should be in a hotel or in your own place ? Some people would say there are no decent places in Dili at all. Depends on your definition of decent really.

    The first point is you should be able to live quite acceptably for US$500 to US$1000. The second point is, if you a working for the UN, there will be a ton of people who are looking for the same thing or are in the same thing. They ought to be able to tell you more than me … sorry, I had a brain fade … you are with the UN … best of luck 🙂

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