Stephen Fry’s Rant about Telecom New Zealand. Deserved?

Stephen Fry’s Rant about Telecom New Zealand. Deserved?

Wow. Just yesterday my mum expressed amazement at how one word from Stephen Fry (“wow”) about her favourite musician, John Gomm, sparked a huge media interest and shot John Gomm to new levels of fame.

Not surprising considering Stephen Fry has almost 4 million followers on Twitter. It doesn’t take a genius to realise his Tweets have far reaching potential and can work wonders for anyone trying to make it big. He’s currently filming in New Zealand at the moment and has been saying some great stuff about Wellington city and even the humble New Zealand flat whites. That’s awesome product placement!

So how about if that power is used for evil as well as good? Wait, that’s far too strong a term. Pointing out issues/errors with a business’ service or products is far from evil. It really helps them to develop their core offering blah blah blah. But what if that information isn’t quite presented with all of the necessary details?

For those that don’t yet know, this morning Stephen Fry got out of bed on the wrong side and had a bit of a rant about both Telecom’s broadband services and their ‘contemptuous attitude to customers’. Mr. Fry’s rant began around 6am this morning with a couple of Tweets:

These Tweets also feature on Stephen Fry’s website (a mighty PR6 blog). It’ll be interesting to see if he follows-up with a blog post on there.

His Tweets sparked plenty of follow-up responses both in support and against Stephen’s rant. One responder included a mention of the Telecom Twitter account which may have been what prompted Telecom to quickly get involved to help find a solution.

At this point, the story was picked up by the news networks (and I’m sure it’ll get a mention on the tele tonight). The NZ Herald’s story ran with the headline:

Fry slams ‘pathetic NZ’ broadband went with:

Fry calls for Kiwi broadband revolt

While the NBR rolled with:

New Zealand broadband bagged by Hobbit star

All fairly dramatic headlines. Stuff also included a poll which has so far attracted 6,516 votes with 91.8% of voters agreeing with ‘Stephen Fry’s view that New Zealand broadband is rubbish’.

The whole situation has dragged New Zealand broadband into the spot light and, in particular, Telecom’s services and attitude towards customers. But is the flak that Telecom NZ have received justified? Or are we all just too keen to join in with a rant against a service that’s so popular to criticise?

The reason I’m willing to defend Telecom on this one (in terms of this specific example – I haven’t studied the reasons for our poor broadband performance – or even if we do compare that badly with the world – in enough detail to write intelligently on it) is because Stephen Fry posted these original comments without any background information at all and without clarifying his issue. He does later mention that he was trying to upload a video for a charity gig he’s attending today, but provides no information on how he was connecting to the internet.

For all we know, the video file size could be huge and he could be trying to upload it from his cellphone in an area with a weak wireless signal.

Now, of course, there’s no problem with venting your frustration. Plenty of people do on Twitter. Everyone is entitled to have a rant. But when you are a huge international celebrity and have 4 million followers, do you have a duty to have more consideration and take more care when it comes to brand-bashing? Was Stephen Fry surprised about the attention his comments have received? His later Tweets suggest so. Should he have been?

He does seem to have a solid understanding of Twitter. Check out this interview in which he stands up for a fellow Twitter user.

Following the media attention, Stephen does go on to clarify his situation and to outline Telecom’s response to his issue. Over 10 Tweets, Stephen says (I’m just going to copy his exact text to avoid changing his meaning if I try and correct stuff. Sorry Mr. Fry!):

Well, seem to have stirred up a hornet’s nest. It seems I exceeded a d’load limit and had my BB throttled to a crawl: @TelecomNZ have put this right. Very quick and polite. But I wonder if everyone who complains gets this attention?

I think Comcast style throttling is a for the economy it’s disastrous, for visitors for everyone. It won’t stop illegal bit torrentinf. Makes as much sense as closing a lane of traffic because there’s congestion. Yes, kiwi land is remote, but if Avatar can be made here and MZ wants to keep its for being the loveable, easy-going, outdoorsy yet tech savvy place it is, then pressure @telecomNZ into offering better packages. Kiwis travel. A lot. They know 20MB is routine in Europe ( nothrottling) UK rolling out ultra fast fibreoptic. S Korea miles ahead

Come on New Zealand. You’re world champions at rugby & filmmaking. Pressure the providers to stop it being a digital embarrassment if I wants that kind of compromise. In all swift response, but unsdrstandbly. There was instant press interest. I’m no one special- I was offered mobile 3G SIMS in a stock as a replacement for the down home service. I could tether a PAYH local Vodafone phone

Your local customers should be special. They need choice, service, understanding and respect. Phew! That probably enough on that xx

Plus I got my part numbers muddled up & lots of typos. But doing this on the run in a short lunch break Hope you all see what I’m getting at

So the reason for Stephen’s very first rant was simply because he had exceeded a bandwidth limit. That makes a lot of sense when you look back at his first Tweet: “turns itself off, slows to a crawl”.

Stephen credits Telecom for putting this right but asks if everyone who complains gets this attention? Is that fair? If an everyday New Zealander had called Telecom customer service with the same problem and had given all of the necessary details … surely the call centre staff would respond to explain about the bandwidth limit and that would be it? Is it Telecom’s fault that whichever building’s network he was connected to (if that was the case) hadn’t communicated the bandwidth limit?

Sure it could be Telecom’s fault that they didn’t communicate this – but that’s the problem. We don’t know. We don’t know the full background but thousands of us were pretty eager to support him in blasting Telecom.

Interestingly, a fair few people have stood up for Telecom and New Zealand’s bandwidth issues in general. It could be said that many of these people are far better placed to comment on our nation’s internet access than a visiting celebrity. Some of the Tweets encouraged some heated debate.





To wrap up, on the one hand New Zealand’s broadband services could be better. There’s no denying that. But, and again I haven’t looked into this fully, do we really stack up that badly on a world scale?

And, regardless, it really does seem like Stephen Fry’s issue was actually quite a minor one, and one that he perhaps should even have been aware of if he had understood the terms of his current broadband connection. But maybe Telecom could have communicated this better? Could there be some kind of pop-up to alert you as to why your connection speed has suddenly dropped? Who knows. Did this issue warrant the media attention it has had? I don’t think so.

Stephen Fry appears to be a pretty stand up guy (and I really am a fan – just last weekend I used him as a subject of this blog post on how to embed a tweet on a blog post *shameless self-plug*) and I’m sure he would have been aware of the attention his comment would receive and perhaps wouldn’t have published his Tweets if he had realised the issue was related to a simple limit of his current connection. That’s something you should always be aware of if you’re roaming in another country and are looking to upload large files to the internet.

  • Update: Stephen Fry did end up writing a blog post about this on his own website. It’s about half way down this very long page! He goes into quite a lot of depth about what Twitter is and isn’t for:

  • If I – like Stephen Fry – had 4 million followers on Twitter the response I got from telecom when I left them may have been a little bit different –  but then, as a domestic consumer, I am only small fry (pun intended) to telecom.

  • Small fry. Touché.

  • I’m chiming in here late, but as someone who has visited New Zealand twice now, it’s a country that really is very far behind the majority of the planet in terms of the internet. I’ve been all over the world, and NZ internet is pretty much the worse I’ve hit. I was even able to get fast, uncapped free WiFi in a rice field in Bali, so to be asked to pay $5 an hour at a coffee shop in Auckland seems a bit ludicrous.

    And while Stephen Fry may have hit a broadband limit, that’s not really the point – the point is that the limit in question is absolutely atrocious compared to the rest of the world. How can someone not be able to upload some videos on their plan? Back home in Canada I am allowed 60GB worth of 50MBP/s downloading a month for $50! I understand NZ is far from the rest of the planet, but we have similar issues – we have to provide internet and mobile phone service to 30 million people on a land mass that’s larger than Russia. It’s difficult, but not impossible. As soon as NZers (and tourists) start demanding better internet, the sooner it will come.

    Whether or not its important to Kiwis is a good question, but if tourism is going to remain a huge part of the NZ economy, then you have to undoubtedly cater to tourists. And as someone who has traveled all around the world I can say with absolute certainty that NZ falls very far short of the mark in terms of internet accessibility.

  • Hi Duane, thanks for your well-written comment. Great to hear some insight from overseas. I think we’re slowly getting there – Kim Dotcom has recently joined forces with an internet provider called Orcon and they’re campaigning to rid New Zealand of data caps. There’s some info on that here: