Chapter 1 - The Tyranny of Distance

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Contents

Reaching out to the world

Aotearoa, rugged individual glisten like a pearl
At the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance didn't stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me? I'll conquer and stay free...
Six months in a Leaky Boat, Split Enz

We’ve come a long way from flag-waving semaphore and the dot-dash-dot of Samuel Morse’s electronic forerunner of the digital age, and our first glimpse of the device that would cause its users to respond more rapidly to its shrill beckoning than a knock at the door.

In the 21st century we can’t get enough of the telephone and the technologies it has spawned – from the dinky pocket cellular phone that doubles as an MP3 player, electronic diary, data repository, and camera, to that most influential of all offspring, the Internet. The Internet is a modern miracle, a network of millions of intersecting networks, a spider’s Web of connections meshing the globe, crossing all time zones, and all political, social, and geographical borders wherever a telecommunications infrastructure exists.

The Internet and the World Wide Web are often considered interchangeable, but the Internet itself is essentially the physical infrastructure. It’s made up of hundreds of thousands of servers (powerful computers), which host information and services, with routers and switches acting like electronic posties, passing messages and requests for information between networks of undersea, underground, overhead, and wireless networks.

The Web is essentially a hypermedia system for organising information. It didn’t come into existence until 1990 but when it did, Internet use went through an exponential growth curve. You can type in a specific address or URL (uniform resource locator) in your Web browser and access information and web sites anywhere in the world. The Web has undergone an astounding evolution from a humble research community library system to a free-for-all, do-it-yourself publishing network. In 2000 it had reached 1.8 billion pages and by 2007 that had grown to 135 billion.[1]

The Internet has given us email, newsgroups, peer-to-peer computing, on-demand music and movie clips, electronic banking, e-government, community networks, on-line shopping, and information at our fingertips. Social networking and blog sites enable people to share their thoughts, hobbies, photos, and home movies and recommend music, films, books, and ideas in a manner that has the capability to stimulate mass market shifts in perception. This transformational technology, which bridges the ‘six degrees of separation,’ is instrumental in creating hit records or turning flops into box-office successes virtually overnight because people are talking to each other, not just relying on the hype from the producers of their entertainment. The Internet has come of age, and its influence has hardly begun to be understood.

The last time the world faced changes of this magnitude was when technology brought about the industrial revolution. People relocated from the country to cities, transport improved markedly, and consumer goods became widely available. The average citizen’s main activity changed from tilling a small piece of soil to working at more specialised jobs in large enterprises. Society was never the same again. The citizens of those countries who were able to industrialise fastest reaped the greatest rewards from the changes. However, some people – those who, through no fault of their own, could not adapt or learn appropriate skills – coped very badly with the changes, as described in the novels of Charles Dickens.[2]

The past 100 years has seen more pervasive change than history has recorded for the previous millennia. With fire, water, earth, and air harnessed to some degree, and steel and steam opening up industrial horizons, humanity’s curiosity extended to harnessing lightning and splitting the atom. Major innovations including the wireless telegraph, broadcast radio and television, the fax, phone, and data communications evolved their separate disciplines. But few could have guessed that in the 21st century these would all be reduced to bits and bytes, moving along a common infrastructure.

The promise of what the future may hold has us sucked in to an endless upgrade path, drawn by a compelling vision of a world where bandwidth is free and we’re in touch with anyone, anywhere, anytime. In its wake this revolution has left many markers to remind us how quietly it began and how rowdy things have become lately. To set the tone and pace of our journey into the history of the Internet and its modern-day impact on New Zealand and the world, we need to review the old-school innovations that brought us this far. From the mid-1800s a raft of changes began transforming our ability to communicate.

Aotearoa’s remoteness at the bottom of the Pacific and the arrival of its overwhelmingly British colonisers put it in catch-up mode from the start. Town planners, once they had ‘acquired’ sufficient land to begin preparing for the massive growth ahead, developed ‘little Englands’ across the landscape. Everyone, it seemed, spoke of the old country and hungrily devoured news from abroad, even if it took five months to get here.

Surveyors marked out roads to make the most habitable areas accessible and devised the best routes to link them to each other. Trade and commerce was a driving force, moving passengers and their worldly goods, delivering livestock and implements to help tame the land, and importing and distributing goods and food to sustain the life these newcomers had become accustomed to.

Any news from home?

Being cut off from the mother country was just one of the many hardships endured by the inhabitants of this harsh new environment. Dog-eared publications passed between friends and family, and public meetings were all that kept the community informed of issues of local importance. The only way news from outside New Zealand got through was by word of mouth or old newspapers and magazines delivered on passenger and freight ships as they docked at Auckland, Wellington, and other safe harbours. It is recorded that three ships which arrived in Wellington in late 1840 carried 710 letters and 436 newspapers.[3]

Sailing ships bringing pioneers from Britain had typically taken five months to reach these shores but with the advent of steamships, mail services in co-operation with Australia arrived via Suez within two months. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869 the route from Britain to Wellington was further reduced to less than 48 days.[4]

Sailing boats and steamships moved up and down the country, trading and delivering people and goods. Roads were still primitive and rail a futuristic thought. Bay of Islands shopkeeper William Powditch set up the first registered post office in New Zealand in 1831, followed shortly by J. R. Clendon, who opened an agency. Both were authorised by the New South Wales Government, which had authority over the colony to manage incoming and outgoing mail. Then Lieutenant Governor William Hobson, arriving in 1840, brought with him William Hayes, who became clerk of the Magistrate’s Court and postmaster at Kororareka (later Russell). Hayes was dismissed for drunkenness and dishonesty; within a month he was replaced by S. E. Grimstone, who became the first postmaster of New Zealand. His payment for service was 20 percent of postal receipts.

Hobson tried to establish his own post office system when he moved the capital to Auckland, but the Colonial Office advised the British postmaster general would retain ultimate authority. The Local Posts Act of 1858, two years after the new colony had been given greater autonomy from Australia, allowed for the appointment of a postmaster general and authorised provincial councils to establish post office services, which were to be co-ordinated on a national basis.[5] Ultimately the New Zealand Post Office (NZPO) would take control of banking through the Post Office Savings Bank along with telegraph and telex services, the telephone network for national and international calls, and radio services including contact with ships.

The unstoppable march towards pervasive telecommunications began for New Zealand only 18 years after Samuel Morse’s first long-distance line had been built primarily for sending and receiving the cryptic dots and dashes of Morse code.[6] The first moves to dot the landscape with poles and long stretches of wire threaded through insulators, setting the pace for the telecommunications revolution, occurred in the South Island.

Early in the 1850s, the population of New Zealand was around 132,000 with pockets of ‘civilisation’ scattered across both islands. The bulk of the population and wealth was, however, centred in Canterbury, where there had been strong growth in agriculture, and further south in Otago, which was at the epicentre of a major gold rush from 1860. The prospect of gold attracted a huge population of would-be miners and opportunists, all eager to stake claims or service those who were. There was also growing demand for farmers and merchants to have more prompt communications than the mail service and more efficient communications with the centre of imports and exports, at Lyttelton Port.

The first official interest in attempting to break the nation’s isolation came in a report from the general telegraph superintendent for Victoria, S. B. McCowan, on 24 July 1858, proposing that Australia and New Zealand be connected by electric cable. His scheme foundered largely because no one could settle on a location for the cable to terminate. The same year the idea of an internal telegraph for the colony was raised by the Lyttelton Times, which saw this as a means to broaden its access to news and a potential subscriber base. Two early editors of the newspaper and persistent supporters of the telegraph were William Reeves (father of William Pember Reeves) and Crosbie Ward. The first attempt at building a telegraph was marred by delays, litigation, and a lack of funding. The Canterbury Provincial Council with support from the local paper, approved £1500 for the task and equipment was ordered from British suppliers.

Edmund Green, an experienced telegraph engineer, was hired to come out from England and supervise the installation. He was given £25 and passage for himself, his wife, and five children. When he reached Lyttelton in August 1859 he found the market had slumped, and the province had no money to pay for the equipment ordered. Green successfully sued the authorities to uphold the terms of his contract and pay for the equipment, which included 250 wrought iron poles, 32km of iron wiring, three Wheatstone needle instruments and the necessary batteries and insulators. The shipment arrived in October but remained unused for several years. Green’s contract was eventually annulled, and he was paid off by the government for £5.

Further efforts were made during 1859–1860 to press ahead with the telegraph, and the editors of the Lyttelton Times continued to lobby for change. A new advocate was found in Alfred Sheath, an experienced telegraph engineer from Birmingham, who had worked for several telegraph companies. He had come to New Zealand to try his hand at sheep farming but in 1861 offered his expertise to help construct the province-wide network. He used some of the imported equipment, replacing the Wheatstone instrument with the latest Morse equipment, which required only one wire and would work over shorter circuits.[7]

New Zealand’s first telegraph line, which followed the railway track between Lyttelton and Christchurch, was built by Melbourne company George Holmes and Co, which had also won the contract to put a tunnel through the Port Hills. It was completed at a cost of £1405 on 18 June 1862 and inaugurated by the Canterbury Provincial Council at a special dinner on 1 July, with the Morse sender transmitting 35 words per minute. One of the first messages sent was to Mr Oakes in Christchurch and read: “Mr Oakes is coming round in schooner Colleen Baun with goods. Dog Pedro poisoned and is dead.”[8] A second network was quickly established between Port Chalmers and Dunedin. A telegraph office was set up in Picton in 1865, and the following year Blenheim and Nelson followed suit.

Cabling the country

At the same time as the south was constructing its pioneering network, the central government in Auckland was becoming increasingly concerned about its isolation from Canterbury, which had become the economic hub of the country. It was also worried about growing hostilities with Maori tribes in neighbouring regions. The postmaster general devoted a page of his annual report in 1863 to the telegraph. He wanted to see a colony-wide telegraphic network including a Cook Strait cable.[9] There were nine independent telegraph networks covering much of the South Island by the time the first undersea cable was laid across Cook Strait to Wellington.

Creating a cable that could survive the harsh conditions on the ocean floor between the two islands required serious innovation. Rubber wasn’t up to the job of insulating the copper. The solution was cutting edge: coagulated latex from trees grown in Malaya, ultimately wrapping seven strands of cable in layers of jute yarn which would withstand the corrosive oceans and the pressures of the undersea currents.[10] The clipper Weymouth first attempted to lay the cable on 27 July 1865, but the tidal rip was so severe the cable broke. The second attempt in August proved successful, and communications between the islands became possible on the 26th of that month. Inter-island traffic initially went through Whites Bay station but the terminal equipment was eventually moved to Blenheim in 1875, with landlines extending east and west from Nelson through the Buller Gorge and Westport.[11]

The first telegraph line in the North Island was a military line from Auckland to Drury, later extended to the Waikato. In 1863 the New Zealand Government established the Electric Telegraph Department, immediately placing the growing number of independent telegraph networks under centralised control. It also took ownership of the Auckland military network and in 1866 started expanding this as part of the Wellington to Auckland route.

Progress was slower getting cable across the North Island, particularly on the main link between Auckland and Wellington. It was a back-breaking job; there were rivers to ford, swamps to navigate, steep hills to climb, and dense bush to penetrate. The pioneering engineers had to hack their way through the terrain, survive flooding and slips, and drag with them the equipment necessary to string up the wiring for the new communications backbone so it would survive years of such conditions. The poles they chose were sometimes steel or manuka trunks but the most effective poles, in the North Island at least, were kauri.

The west of the North Island through the rugged King Country to Waikato with its dense bushland would have been a considerable challenge. Even the hardened labourers, who were used to digging holes, hoisting up poles through a system of pulleys drawn by horses, and easing out huge lengths of wires from large wooden rolls would have found it hard going. Besides the natural obstacles of weather and wilderness there was always the risk of fierce resistance from local Maori, many of whom resented the intrusion of Pakeha extending this strange arrangement of poles across their tribal land. Some had already engaged in running battles with the British troops and others were fiercely suspicious of any intruders after being forced off their prime Waikato land by government forces.

On the East Coast, however, cable laying proceeded rapidly, reaching from Masterton to Napier by 1868, although it would be a further four years before it reached Auckland. The telegraph poles were placed as close to the Wairarapa coastline as possible to avoid the dense bush. Once it had reached Hawke’s Bay, it was slowly extended from Napier to Rotorua and Taupo and on to Thames where it met the Auckland line, now extending from Mercer.

During the New Zealand wars, telegraph lines were often first installed for military purposes enabling the troops to maintain communication. A huge investment was made in ensuring these lines straddled the main routes throughout the late 19th century. Within 10 years of the first telegraph line being established, more than 2000 miles of phone cable had been strung across the country. By 1872 when the Wellington-Auckland line was completed, around 400,000 messages a year were being carried over the fledgling network; in the following decade the length of installed lines had doubled and 1.5 million telegrams were being handled annually.[12]

Official post offices and agencies would send and receive telegrams on behalf of customers. When a telegram arrived couriers or ‘telegraph boys’ would deliver handwritten or printed messages to the appropriate residence or business. If someone wanted to reply to a message or to initiate communication, it involved visiting an agency, writing your message on a pre-printed form and having a telegraph operator key it in and transmit it to the desired location. You would be charged by character and distance, which forced smart communicators to create ‘telegraphese’ shorthand, the precursor to 21st century text messaging.[13]

The world was in the midst of the industrial revolution, moving rapidly into the age of steam and steel and spurred on by breakthroughs in electrical power and telegraphic communications. While the industrialised nations were facing a period of rapid growth driven by engineering, innovation, and investment, New Zealand was beginning to feel left out. From a British standpoint we were often seen as an annoyance, with our constant cries for greater support from the home country; too easily lumped in with the convict hordes across the Tasman or dismissed as irrelevant to the grander plans of the Empire.

From 1860 there was no shortage of proposals from entrepreneurs and investors who claimed they could broker undersea cable deals to link New Zealand to the world. Major projects were already underway to link Britain with its colonies in India, Singapore, and China. Entrepreneurial local- body politician and newspaper baron Julius Vogel had long articulated his desire for New Zealand to have direct international communications and an improved infrastructure. Communications were limited, roading was poor, railways were in their infancy, and telegraph poles still provided limited coverage of the nation.

Vogel warned the country was heading for recession. Investment was down, the gold rush was all but over, there were fewer immigrants and with prices for wool and wheat falling and business growth flat he believed it was time to act. Vogel had introduced a motion in parliament when he approved the Cook Strait cable in 1864, when he had first spoken of the importance of a cable to Australia. He raised the issue again in 1868 and in 1869, when he was appointed colonial treasurer, postmaster general, and commissioner of customs, and in a position to put into practice the large and imaginative schemes that provincial politics had not allowed.

Undersea and far away

Vogel began talking with key people in Australia about ways to achieve a trans-Tasman undersea link. Confident he had support, he put forward a bill at the 1870 parliamentary session which supported his new economic policy. The bill was passed into law by a slim majority and a memorandum of understanding with Australia on 6 January 1870 committed the New Zealand Government to £15,000 annually towards the cost of the cable. In his dramatic financial statement of 28 June 1870, Vogel announced he would borrow £10 million over ten years for the development of railways and roads and improvements to national and international communications – along with immigration schemes for long-term settlers and short-term workers. The undersea cable to Australia would be part of this new package. The money would be borrowed on overseas markets at five and a half percent interest, with repayments made from railway revenue and stamp duty. Six million acres of land alongside the railways would be used as collateral for the loans.

He left on a loan-raising visit to England and the United States at the end of 1870 and, after borrowing £1.2 million, granted railway and immigration contracts.[14] Then the British backed off their commitment to the trans-Tasman cable, and without government guarantees, the private investors also walked away.

By 1872 there was already a link from the eastern tip of Java to Darwin in Australia. It had been laid by the newly formed British Australian Telegraph Company in association with the South Australian Government, which had already constructed a 3000km telegraph line from Darwin to Adelaide. This had given the Australians a direct link to London through a mix of undersea and overland cables and significantly improved the time it took for short messages to reach New Zealand, even if they had to go the final leg by ship. If you wanted to send an international telegram it would first have to be mailed then sent to Melbourne or Sydney by ship then re-keyed to the more distant location by cable.

While New Zealand’s hopes for closer communications had initially been dashed, there were other offers. Siemens Brothers had laid cable from India to Singapore and were keen to extend into Australia and New Zealand. Parliament looked at a proposal in 1873 and agreed, in conjunction with Australia and Singapore, to subsidise such a cable to the tune of £17,000 a year over 35 years. There would be a separate line to Britain in competition with what was now known as Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Company. The agreement was signed but within months Siemens changed its route and wanted to land the cable at North Cape. Vogel refused, and by the time the bill to approve the deal came to parliament, there were serious doubts about whether it was financially viable or in New Zealand’s interests. The go-ahead was given anyway but resolving the details dragged on for another year.

In England Vogel met with Siemens and became increasingly uneasy about the company’s ability to finance the proposed cable. Word came in June that he had been working on a better offer and was about to sign an agreement with Eastern Extension, formed in 1873 from the liquidated assets of several other cable companies. The partnership, involving both the Australian and New Zealand Governments, would see Eastern Extension lay and operate a cable to New Zealand from Botany Bay in Sydney, near the monument to French explorer Jean-Francois de Le Perouse. New Zealand would pay only £5000 a year. Because the Cook Strait cable was proving far from reliable, it was clear the termination point would have to be in the South Island. It was eventually agreed that it would be in Nelson, New Zealand’s fifth largest township, which at the time had a population of 5000. The specific location was narrowed down to a sheltered deep water inlet known as Schroder’s Mistake, later renamed Cable Bay.

Work began immediately on building a terminal office and placing 24km of telegraph poles and wire from the inlet to the Nelson Telegraph Office. The cable ships were sighted off Nelson on Wednesday 16 February 1876. Government officials had been waiting for days for this. A cry of ‘three cheers for the cable!’ went up from a boatload of tourists. The locals were excited the final link, connecting New Zealand into the growing global telegraphic network, was about to be put in place. A short while later, as smaller boats tried to bring the cable ashore at about 2.30 p.m., Hemi Matenga, a local Maori from Wakapuaka Pa, stepped into the water and waded up to his neck to grab the cable and bring it to shore.[15]

The first message, sent by Julius Vogel on 19 February, went to the Earl of Carnarvon, Britain’s colonial secretary. Over the next three days congratulatory telegrams poured in from various colonial governments. The duplex link between La Perouse in Sydney and the Wakapuaka (Cable Bay) terminal house at Nelson was officially opened for business on 21 February 1876, by default giving New Zealand a direct link-up across Asia, Europe, and Britain. On the first day of business 54 inward telegrams were received and 93 sent. The benefits of an arrangement with United Press Association, which had a permanent agent stationed at Cable Bay, were evident the next day as direct cable news began appearing in New Zealand newspapers.

The local community was in a celebratory mood. The cable ships Hibernia and Edinburgh dropped anchor at the Port of Nelson. As the evening drew on the ships turned on all their lights and put on a rocket display, followed by a 17-gun salute from the Nelson Artillery volunteers. Various celebrations, excursions, picnics, and a ball were arranged. On the Sunday before the ships left, a large congregation gathered at the Anglican Cathedral to hear Bishop Suter give a sermon based on the Book of Job, quoting chapter 38, verse 35: “Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are.”[16]

Morse was still in its early development and telegraph networks were capable of sending only one message at a time. When the line cleared, a response could be sent in the familiar audible tones of dots and dashes which coded the alphabet. Repeaters were needed every 1100km so the trans-Tasman cable presented some challenges. The Mirror Galvanometer[17] was deployed to translate the dots and dashes into light flashes. Two operators were required at either end, one to call out the messages letter by letter, the other to write them down. It often took an operator two years of training; 30 words a minute was acceptable, although 60 words was preferable in a senior operator.[18]

Sending and receiving telegraphs remained a multi-phased process. When a message arrived from Australia across the cable there was no direct link to the landlines, so the operators at Cable Bay would have to re-key the messages on for the next leg of the journey over the newly completed landline to the Nelson Telegraph office.[19]

Make way for the telephone

The great time lag between what was happening in the rest of the world and the new colony in New Zealand was disappearing. New Zealand’s population had grown rapidly from 27,000 in 1851 to 227,000 by 1871 and would treble over the following decade. The rapid expansion of railways and roads and the number of steamships plying trade along the coastline meant goods were moving more quickly to and from their destinations. New Zealand was beginning to show its true capabilities. The British were finally taking notice of the growing volumes of meat and wool, which were helping transform the country from a thorn in the side of the Empire into a farm supplying quality agricultural products – particularly after the first frozen-meat shipment arrived in 1882.

With the telegraph now available in most centres businesses and individuals were now far more informed about what was going on in the world, the nation, and their own communities. Around 7000km of internal telegraph lines were now in operation. Even though the New Zealand Telegraph Department was training up a growing number of telecommunications operators to send and decode Morse messages, the old-style telegraph was rapidly heading for obsolescence. A new challenge was presenting itself requiring that infrastructure to move up a notch or two.

The first telephones in New Zealand were deployed in 1876, just a year after their invention.[20] In 1877 a Dunedin electrician, Charles A. Henry, organised the first ‘talking telegraph’ trial after putting together a telephone receiver and transmitter (a transceiver) based on what he had read in a magazine. According to the Otago Daily Times a “telephone instrument and wire” was attached to the existing telegraph wire at the Dunedin Telegraph office and another at the Milton office – a distance of 57km. The newspaper described it as “simply marvellous.” It wrote “A large number of questions were asked and each was replied to instantaneously by the person in Milton… Not only could the words spoken at either end be clearly heard, but the difference in tone of voice was easily distinguished.”[21]

Later that year the first telephone line was installed between Kaiapoi and Addington and the first call on a private line, using the newfangled talking telegraph, was allegedly made by a Mrs Sheehy, who took a call from a Roxburgh farm in central Otago. No one thought to keep a record of what she said.[22] The first commercial telephone service went into operation in 1878 in Christchurch, and the first telephone office was established in Port Chalmers the following year, with a link to Portobello so shipping information could be relayed to Dunedin more quickly. Telephones soon began to be used to supplement the telegraph in small towns that couldn’t afford Morse operators.

Overhead telephone cables began appearing across the nation, spanning out to connect directly with businesses, government offices, and homes. The proliferation of poles and the wires hanging from them were often referred to as ‘Lemon trees’ after the director of telegraphy, Dr Lemon. Among the industries transformed by the new communications lines was the newspaper business. Before the advent of phone connections they had to rely on sailing ships to deliver news from abroad and in Auckland reporters often rowed out on the Waitemata Harbour to meet vessels to pass this on to the public.[23]

Lemon had produced a scientific paper in October 1874 on duplex telegraphy, based largely on an earlier paper by R. S. Culley, to the Society of Telegraph Engineers in London. It included his department’s experiments in ‘duplexing’ the Cook Strait cable in 1873–1874. When the duplex system extended to most of the main circuits, providing an extra 2378km of wires at an ‘absolute saving’ of £20,000 a year, Lemon’s department was claiming New Zealand “…was the first colony on this side of the Line which has introduced and worked with success this improved system of telegraphy… It was only fair to Dr Lemon to again express an indebtedness to the colony to him for his persevering and untiring efforts in introducing to his Department every new and improved system.”[24]

The Electric Telegraph Department had for 18 years been separate from the Post Office, although its commissioner was also postmaster general and many of its ‘telegraph-masters’ were postmasters. The goal to take over all the various telegraph networks was progressing apace; by 1879 only 19 of the 214 telegraph stations were still operating independently. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Sometimes the workers felt their employers were taking advantage of them. On 3 January operators at the Electric Telegraph Department went on a nationwide strike because they had their overtime allowances cut and the working day lengthened by one and a half hours. The strike was broken by 8 January with the men forced to sign an apology for striking and being fined as well as losing their pay for the days off.[25]

In 1881 when it was clear the telephone was about to transform the communications landscape, the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department replaced the Telegraph Department. It quickly became a state monopoly, on the advice of a government official, in order to prevent the Electric Telegraph Company of Chicago, a direct antecedent of Ameritech and Bell Atlantic, opening an exchange here. There had also been an attempt by Auckland businessman H. B. Morton to start a private telephone company for the Edison, Bell Co. Horton had run an early telephone trial using an Auckland gas company private wire, which was shut down by the government.

However Postmaster General Lemon, at his retirement ceremony, observed that telephony became a state monopoly ‘by accident’ when a Melbourne entrepreneur, a representative of the Melbourne Telephone Exchange Company, indicated he wanted to start a telephone service in New Zealand around 1878–1879. The prospect of someone else establishing themselves in Lemon’s patch disturbed him and he began looking at bringing it under state control. He claims to have approached the commissioner of Telegraphs, John Hall, to put a clause in the 1880 amendment of the 1875 Electric Telegraph Act “to give the Colony the sole right of using the telephone.”[26] The resulting clause read:

Thereafter the Telegraph Department took full responsibility for developing a nationwide telephone network and training operators to handle calls at the new manual exchanges about to be deployed across the country. Female exchange operators were employed to sit in rows at switchboards, connecting calls by inserting a plug into the socket relating to the number called.

The first manual telephone exchanges with battery-operated transmitter went into operation in Christchurch in 1881 with 27 subscribers and Auckland with 26 subscribers. Dunedin followed in 1882 and Wellington in 1883. There was some initial resistance to the rapid roll-out of this replacement technology. Even though exchanges opened in most major centres over the next decade, there were still only 2000 subscribers by 1890. By the turn of the century, however, there were 7150 subscribers throughout New Zealand and toll lines began linking cities by 1906.[27]

Battle of two cable bays

There was ongoing pressure from the 1880s to reduce the cost of transmitting telegrams, particularly between New Zealand and Britain, but even fierce competition between two cable companies could not hold back the tide of change.

While business increasingly depended on telegrams to communicate with local and international suppliers and customers, the cost was greater than most individuals could afford. In 1884 the government, primarily influenced by Jules Vogel, threatened to withhold any future subsidies of the Eastern Extension cable between Nelson and Sydney unless there was a significant drop in the rates.

A cable to England cost five pounds two shillings, and nine pence. Despite opposition Vogel stuck to his guns, knowing that Canadian Sanford Fleming was proposing a Pacific cable from Australia and New Zealand to Britain via Canada, which he claimed would reduce the New Zealand-Britain rate to just two pounds.

The threat was not taken lightly by John Pender, who in 1872 had merged four companies into the Eastern Telegraph Company, and a year later added another three acquisitions to the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Company with common board membership. He was livid: if no subsidy was forthcoming for his trans-Tasman leg of the cable, and if New Zealand wouldn’t renew its contract, the rates would be raised to ten shillings for ten words, and one shilling for every additional word.

The New South Wales postmaster general tried to convince Vogel, a staunch anti-monopolist, to sort out the mess. This was further complicated when word got out about Eastern’s proposed increase; Chambers of Commerce delegations from across the country met with Vogel, imploring him to renew the subsidy. There was grandstanding on both sides until things reached a stalemate with Pender holding off the increase and Vogel referring the decision to the next parliamentary session, six months away. Pender withdrew his threats, only slightly increasing his rates. Meanwhile Vogel continued to investigate how quickly it would take to get a new cable into New Zealand.

Fleming continued laying cable across Canada, extending his comprehensive proposals for a Pacific cable via Hawaii and Fiji and on to Australia and New Zealand, with a promise to halve telegraph rates. He suggested New Zealand’s involvement might only be £4000 a year for 25 years. There was little news of his plan for a time, then it resurfaced.

Eastern Extension, which now owned and operated half of the world’s 32,000km of undersea cables, lobbied against the Pacific cable wherever possible. It had added a second cable from La Perouse in Sydney on 26 April 1890, landing at Cable Bay, Nelson. The ten-day cable-laying marathon attempted to provide redundancy and ward off the competitive threat. Fleming forged ahead regardless, deciding the Australia-New Zealand portion of his Pacific cable would link from Queensland’s Gold Coast to Doubtless Bay in the Far North of New Zealand.

The actual site within the wide mouth of Doubtless Bay would be known as Cable Bay, like its South Island equivalent. A building for terminating equipment and housing operators was built, along with a staff residence. From Cable Bay the overland telegraph ran to the New Zealand Post and Telegraph at Whangarei and on to Auckland, a distance of about 320km.

Sir Joseph Ward, the former post office message boy and, from 1890, postmaster general and electric telegraph commissioner, sent the first two telegraphs from ship to shore from the cable ship Anglia for transmission to his wife and to Premier Richard Seddon in Wellington. When the Cable Bay station became operational on 26 March 1901, Ward personally sent the first message to Colonial Secretary Sir Joseph Chamberlain in London. The trans-Tasman alternative to the Eastern Extension line became fully operational in December that year when the New Zealand-London word rate was three shillings. Anticipating a price war Eastern Extension had previously lowered its rate from five shillings and tuppence to three and fourpence and was now forced to equal the rate of its new rival. Competition was working.

However, the second cable remained controversial. Eastern Extension’s revenues from its Nelson-based station dropped dramatically as the government aggressively supported its investment in the Pacific Cable Board, despite promising not to actively undermine its competitors. In fact, the New Zealand public cared little about which cable carried their messages, as long as they arrived. After all, the visible entity they were dealing with was New Zealand Post & Telegraph (NZP&T).

A population swing away from the South Island to Wellington and Auckland brought greater focus on the Cable Bay terminal in Northland. Eastern Extension began a marketing campaign to strengthen support from businesses, even printing its own forms. However NZP&T refused to accept the forms because the company did not have its own cable distribution centre. So Eastern employed a canvasser based in Wellington. It soon became clear it was up against an entrenched attitude; the Ward government favoured government ownership of all telecommunications cable.

Staff numbers at Nelson declined, the relationship with Associated Press deteriorated, and ongoing tensions with NZP&T were making life difficult all around. Eastern was also having difficulty maintaining and keeping its lines in optimal order. The Pacific Cable Board was having troubles of its own setting priorities for transmissions. Some of its trans-Canadian traffic went across a leased line which used a different operating system, adding to the error rate. A separate line was then installed.

By 1911 businesses had become so dependent on sending and receiving telegrams that speed of delivery was now a major factor. The bulk of traffic was going to New South Wales and Victoria but the Pacific cable route from Doubtless Bay via Norfolk Island to Southport then Brisbane and Sydney was time-consuming and losing it business. The Pacific Cable Board moved its offices to Auckland, taking the Doubtless Bay cable end with it, re-splicing it at Auckland’s Takapuna Beach. It installed repeaters at Norfolk Island so messages went direct from Auckland to Suva. A new cable was also laid at Muriwai Beach on Auckland’s west coast, running directly to Bondi Beach in Sydney. The new cables no longer needed operators, as messages could be transmitted automatically between post offices. Pacific Cable quickly picked up a greater share of the trans-Tasman business.

Meanwhile NZP&T had struck an agreement with Eastern in 1909 to do all its landline work, and the company was considering plans to shift its operation to Wellington. Business had slowed, rates were going down and from 1913 there was heavy discounting, particularly at weekends. Both companies could only ignore the impending competition from wireless for so long.

Wireless relay stations were established on top of the Auckland and Wellington post office buildings and coastal stations were established in Northland and Southland, principally for ship-to-shore communications and access to the Pacific Islands. However businesses were also starting to use the wireless system for urgent messages. NZP&T had agreed to start receiving its first ‘Marconigrams’ from 1906, which made their way here through a series of undersea and landline cables and wireless links including ship-to-shore communications.

In 1914 at the outbreak of World War I, the Germans attacked the isolated but pivotal stations of the Eastern Extension network at Fanning and Cocos Islands (later Keeling Island). A major fire had severely damaged the Cable Bay station on 1 June, giving further incentive to move offices to Wellington. In late 1915 Eastern’s two trans-Tasman cables were re-routed to Titahi Bay, 22km north of Wellington, with underground cables running to the new premises in central Wellington. In Australia the cables were moved from La Perouse to Bondi.

While the cables of both Eastern Extension and Pacific Cable had been invaluable for government and military communications between New Zealand and its allies, particularly in relation to wartime activity in the Pacific Islands, business had slowed and consequently international communications had tailed off. There was modest communications growth after the war but produce markets remained in a slump.

The poor state of the cables now became evident. Their lack of capacity meant business communication often depended on which company was able to take the traffic. Costs were cut to try to keep the business attractive, and the Pacific Cable Board moved rapidly to increase its capacity, laying duplicate cable between Suva and Auckland in 1923. Eastern also began to apply new regeneration technology to boost the signal over its cables. But even with these improvements cable was still too costly for the average New Zealander and the main traffic continued to come from government, business, and the newspaper industry.

The wireless threat again came to the fore, and by the end of July 1924 the British Government was in discussion with the Marconi company for a system in Canada, with options for routes to South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Both Eastern and Pacific Cable lowered their rates in anticipation and Marconi undercut them significantly. Eastern and Pacific Cable dropped its word rate between Britain and Australia even further to two shillings. Marconi came back with a flat four penny rate. It was all over. Within months wireless had taken 65 percent of all Eastern Extension’s business and more than 50 percent of Pacific Cable’s.[28]

In 1927 Eastern sought British Government assistance to keep afloat, threatening to cease operation unless it got financial help. Marconi was incensed at what it claimed must ultimately result in state control. What resulted was a merger of interests, with Eastern Extension effectively absorbed in a new entity that became known as Cable & Wireless.[29]

As telegraph costs moved within the reach of the general public the world entered another period of turmoil. Hot on the heels of the New York Stock Market crash of 1929, which triggered the Great Depression, New Zealand’s economy rapidly contracted. In May 1932 the Titahi Bay cable was lifted and re-landed at Muriwai Beach. A year later Eastern closed its offices in Wellington.[30]

Wireless options abound

In 1894, a year before Marconi’s first successful wireless transmission in Europe, Ernest Rutherford, a physics graduate at Canterbury University College, transmitted a signal 18 metres across the physics department through several walls using Hertzian waves. The following year Rutherford, who became the father of nuclear physics, took his apparatus to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, where he further developed it to pick up signals transmitted up to 800 metres away. By then other aspects of physics had become more attractive to Rutherford, who in effect left the future development of two-way wireless to Guglielmo Marconi.

In New Zealand, two Dunedin student teachers, L. E. Strachan and C. R. Scott, had managed to repeat Heinrich Hertz’s original 1888 experiments. In the Christmas holidays of 1900–1901 they successfully transmitted a spark from one room to another. By the middle of the year the two could transmit a signal that rang an electric bell 90 metres away. The next year J. L. Passmore, a Dunedin teenager, built a wireless telegraph from instructions in a magazine. By 1903 the 18-year-old could send a signal up to 10km, by which time any further experimentation may well have incurred the wrath of the government, which now had full control over any developments that might be termed wireless telephony.[31]

The New Zealand Government had been keeping a close eye on the new technologies that were beginning to open up communications both nationally and with the outside world. Early attempts at demonstrating wireless broadcasting had further sparked fears about foreign telephone companies entering the market.

The Wireless Telegraphy Act 1903 clearly stated that only the government was permitted to receive or transmit wireless communications. The new legislation, which passed into law on 26 September 1903, sought to protect the government’s investment in the telegraph and telephone networks and secure its rights to manage radio spectrum to prevent interference. “The Government intend to acquire a monopoly of this system (wireless), just in the same way as has been done in regard to telegraph lines and telephones,” announced the attorney general to the Legislative Council. It was a world first, a year ahead of the equivalent legislation in the United Kingdom and two years ahead of Australia and Canada. Anyone involved in unauthorised wireless telegraphy was subject to a £500 fine and confiscation of equipment.

One of the main concerns, as outlined by the postmaster general of the day, was that the new wireless telegraphy technology might render the wired telegraphy network obsolete and thereby deprive the government of revenue.[32] The Seddon Liberal Government’s monopoly actions were defended by claims that the Act would help preserve the confidentiality of telegrams or other messages which might be transmitted by the Post Office through the new system. The Legislative Council wanted control only over those stations that operated for profit but Premier Richard Seddon claimed he had Britain’s support, for his concerns that foreign powers might establish radio stations in New Zealand for seditious purposes.

The Act was far reaching and covered:

The first domestic radio transmission was made by the Marconi Company at the 1906 Christchurch International Exhibition. The first trans-Tasman transmission was made from HMS Pioneer in Wellington Harbour via HMS Powerful in the Tasman Sea to HMS Psyche in Sydney Harbour on 3 February 1908. In 1908 three Dunedin teenagers, two of them pupils at Otago Boys’ High School, gave the country’s first public demonstration of wireless telegraphy. Stanton Hicks, Rawson Stark, and Cyril Brandon transmitted messages from the mayor of Dunedin and the mayor of West Harbour between Anderson’s Bay and Ravensbourne. The boys also sent a message, relayed by land telegraph to parliament, “on behalf of the boys attending the schools in the Dominion, the S.H. & B. Wireless Company send hearty good wishes to the Postmaster General and the Parliament of New Zealand.” Nearly two decades later, in October 1924, an English schoolboy sent a Morse transmission from Mill Hill School in London. It was received at Shag Valley Station by Frank Bell – his reply completed the first round-the-world radio communication without the use of relay stations.[33]

The frequency of early radio transmitters and receivers could not be controlled to any significant degree, so only one wireless communication at a time could take place in any given geographical area. With the tragic loss of the Titanic in 1912, it was realised a management framework for radio transmission and reception was necessary for the full potential of the technology to be used. Although the upper range of frequencies suitable for wireless communication was unknown, the concept gradually emerged of the radio spectrum as a public and economic resource, and licensing (the generation of radio waves) as a management tool for the prevention of radio interference.[34]

Talking to ourselves

During New Zealand’s formative century governments financed roads and streets, rail networks, universities, schools, a national airline, a health system, banking, postal, and broadcasting networks and established electricity and telephone connections to every home. From the early 1900s technology advanced rapidly, the telephone becoming an important part of the social fabric. The country was becoming more accessible. The main trunk railway between Auckland and Wellington was completed by 1908 and roads into towns and remote communities were improving all the time. Local electricity generation meant street lights and electric trams were now operating in some locations. Telegrams were still used for international communications and special occasions but the telephone network was now touching the lives of most New Zealanders. The first telephones were wall mounted and available only in black. In 1915 the candlestick telephone was introduced. Phones were supplied by and remained the property of the carrier, a situation that remained in place until deregulation in the 1980s.

A faster, more efficient approach to the telephone exchange had been invented in 1891 by undertaker Almon B. Strowger. He had been wondering why his business in Kansas, United States, was not doing as well as it had been while his rival seemed to be doing a booming trade. Strowger tracked down the problem to an operator at the telephone switchboard who happened to be the wife of his rival. She was switching calls to her husband’s business regardless of which undertaker people requested. Determined to find a solution that prevented this kind of bias, Strowger built an automated switchboard.[35]

In 1912 the New Zealand Government passed a Country Telecommunications Act, which enabled people in rural areas to build their own telephone networks and link into the public network. The first automatic exchange equipment came into operation in Auckland and Wellington that year, as a supplement to the manual exchange in each centre. The first town to have an all-automatic telephone system was Masterton, in 1919.[36] The new exchanges enabled the NZPO to increase its traffic volume to handle 500 lines at a time. The first private automatic branch exchanges (PABX) appeared in 1925.

A relatively unreliable telegraph cable had linked the North and South Islands since 1864, but in 1926 the first Cook Strait cable dedicated to telephony was laid. The new ‘carrier’ approach to telephony (frequency division multiplexing), introduced in 1929, made it possible to transmit a number of voices over a single pair of telephone wires by using different frequencies. This resulted in great improvement in the capacity of the lines and the quality of calls, particularly over long distances. By 1927 a transatlantic telephone service was in operation.[37]

Talking to the world

By 1930 all the main centres were part of a national telephone network through PABX, and callers could pay a toll to call to connect between cities and towns. The NZPO had around 125,000 subscribers. Table telephones became popular and were available in a variety of styles, sparking a fashion in phones. The square, black bakelite, however, remained the standard phone until the late 1950s.

It was official: the telephone was here to stay. People were talking, not just across the back fence, but to friends, relatives, neighbourhoods, and communities. Remote farms and townships once cut off from the commercial centres were now part of the social fabric. Businesses in towns and cities were more closely tied to their suppliers and larger customers. World news was more readily available, orders filled more promptly, requests received instantly. Gossip travelled at light speed.

In 1930 the first international public radio-telephone service linking New Zealand’s phone network to that of Australia was in place. The first international call was made from Kirkcaldie & Staines in Wellington on 25 November 1930, when the minister of native affairs, Sir Apirana Ngata, rang the acting prime minister of Australia, Mr Fenton.

The media of the day reported:

The radio equipment used by the service was installed by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) and the charge for using the radio telephone service was £1 per minute. In July 1931 the network was extended to the United Kingdom using Australian beam wireless stations, which had been opened in 1927 by AWA. The company was an electrical conglomerate with interests extending from radio receiver manufacture to the operation of commercial broadcasting stations. The two stations were primarily concerned with radiotelegraph traffic.[38] A call between Australia and New Zealand cost £6, 15 shillings and was regarded as something of a luxury. In the first year of the trans-Tasman link 312 radio telephone calls were made to and from New Zealand. By 1939 when rates had fallen 3457 calls were recorded.[39] That year New Zealand had more phones per head of population than any country except the United States.

Coin-operated telephones were first tried experimentally in Wellington in 1910 for local calls. Multi-coin slot telephones, from which local and toll calls could be made or telegrams phoned in for onward transmission, were first installed in 1938 in Christchurch. Annual rentals for residential telephones ranged from £12 for very small exchanges up to £16 for the main centres. Business telephone rentals ranged from £18 to £31. Party lines were charged much lower rentals.[40]

At the Commonwealth Telecommunications Conference in London in 1945, the New Zealand Government signed an agreement to take over responsibility for external communications. The assets of Cable and Wireless were purchased and the NZPO became responsible for external as well as internal telecommunications services.[41] Phone customers had nearly tripled to 348,539 by 1950 and by 1960 the number of subscribers was 686,021. The sheer pressure of customer demand forced the Post Office to make every attempt to keep pace with the technology that was at the forefront of this revolution.

Towing the party line

By 1959 what was called a ‘telecommunications motorway’ had been established by the Post Office for long-distance calls, initially carrying just 600 circuits between Wellington and Auckland and forming the base for modern-day networks. Some countries were charging for local calls but New Zealand offered a flat fee for unrestricted calling within the local exchange area and toll fees for calls to other exchange areas. At the turn of the century calls from one exchange to another could be made only if the distance was short and circuits weren’t needed for telegraph traffic.

Although automatic exchanges were starting to make inroads, operators at manual switchboard exchanges; which still served the majority of the country, were hard pressed to keep up. Callers would first have to call the exchange with a couple of rugged rings, wait for an operator to answer, give them the number they were trying to reach, and then wait for an answer from the called party. The called party would have to identify calls meant for them, as opposed to others sharing the party line, through a Morse-style series of long and short rings. This was often confusing, particularly when several people answered the phone at once or listened in on each other’s conversations. In 1960 there were 55,227 party lines serving a total of 173,139 ‘subscribers’ stations.’[42]

The growing local and global network now included a mixture of voice, Morse code, telegraphs, and newer teleprinters, the precursor to the modern fax machine. Facsimile services were introduced in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1920s, using the Siemens-Karolus picturegram system. Images were of low quality and transmission was slow and expensive. Most of the traffic was for low-resolution reproduction of photographs and cartoons in newspapers. Machine-printing telegraph equipment, which promised reduced costs, was used from 1921. New Zealand-designed multiplex telegraphy printing equipment, which could handle four messages simultaneously in each direction on each circuit, came into use between Wellington and Christchurch in 1921. This system remained active for 30 years, but was rapidly sidelined by faster imported teleprinters from about 1929.[43]

Toll services were further improved in 1960 by the new large-capacity toll link between Auckland and Wellington. Coaxial cable was used from Auckland to Hamilton and from Wellington to Palmerston North, with microwave channels between Hamilton and Palmerston North.[44] From 1930 until 1962 overseas telephone services used high-frequency radio. A government short-wave radio-telegraph link was established with Apia in 1927 and extended to Rarotonga in 1930. The first high-speed radiotelegraph service to the United States launched in 1942. In 1947 a radiophoto service was opened with Australia and England. Telegraph services by radio were established to London in 1952, to Sydney in 1954 and to Vancouver-Montreal in 1959, and an international telex service opened in 1960.

As the number of subscribers continued to escalate so did toll traffic. In 1900, 260,000 toll calls were made; by 1920 this had reached 6.75 million. By 1940 there were 16 million calls and in 1960 subscribers made 55 million toll calls. By 1962 there were four channels to Australia and one each to Britain, Canada, the United States, and Fiji. Service was restricted, except to Australia. The first link of COMPAC, the Commonwealth Pacific telephone cable owned by Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, was laid between Sydney and Auckland in June 1962. By the end of the year it reached Suva, and by the end of 1963 the cable was completed to Vancouver through Hawaii, giving New Zealand a high-quality telephone service to North America, and through CANTAT (the transatlantic section of the Commonwealth cable), to England and Europe.

Morse telegraphy was obsolete by the 1960s. The last Morse telegram was written by Governor General Bernard Fergusson to the mayor of Eastborne in January 1963 and in October that year the last domestic Morse circuits closed down. By 1966 New Zealand toll operators were able to dial subscribers direct in Australia and Fiji. A system of dialling over long intercontinental cable circuits was being incorporated in a new international exchange installed in 1966–1967, when semi-automatic operation was introduced with Britain, Canada, and the United States.[45] By 1965 New Zealand was third in the world in telephone density, with 35 percent of the population now subscribing. Around 77 percent of all phones were on automatic exchanges. In the decade from 1952 to 1962 the number of subscribers increased by 99.7 percent, from 288,704 to 576,570. In 1964 almost 70,800 new installations were made and 19,000 were still on waiting lists.[46]

Dinosaur computers

During the 1960s New Zealand’s largest businesses and government departments had begun to explore the potential of computer power. They’d been watching the deployment of these iron monsters overseas and begun to consider what impact they might have locally. In November 1960 after months of discussion Treasury finally leased New Zealand’s first mainframe computer, an IBM 650, for its data processing centre, which officially opened for business in March 1961.

Its first major task was to handle the payroll for the country’s 34,000 government employees. Initially it also helped establish a business case for several other departments, and within a couple of years nine departments had their own computers. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) which had been set up in 1926, provided a computer advisory service for commercial firms through its physics and engineering laboratory. In 1961 Canterbury University and the Griffins biscuit factory also had computers and the following year Treasury considered its IBM 650 outmoded.[47]

A growing number of businesses and government departments began buying, leasing, or sharing mainframe computers for data processing. By the end of 1968 a total of 87 computers had been sold in New Zealand, mainly cumbersome mainframes that often took up whole floors of large organisations.

However international statistics in a 1968 report by the NZ Institute of Economic Research, showed that in comparison with other countries of roughly similar size where agriculture was a significant sector of the economy, New Zealand was slow to make the move to computers. The study compared the country’s expenditure on computer rentals in relation to national income on a base of 100. The figure for Australia was 140, for Denmark 180, Norway 135, and Finland 120.[48]

Stephen Bell, a computer journalist writing in the New Zealand Computer Society’s 25-year anniversary publication Looking Back to Tomorrow, said the computers of the 1960s were dedicated machines, most of them running a single application at a time, and scheduled externally by paper instructions. Their main purpose was to speed up manual processes, even after more sophisticated operating systems and the ability to handle multiple concurrent streams of work became possible.

The processing power and storage capacity of these lumbering giants would, however, be dwarfed by desktop computers within a decade and the communications capabilities of the telephone network enhanced to deliver valuable data links that spanned the world.

Cold war and hot potatoes

As the 1960s dawned so did the political tensions between the superpowers. The world, it seemed, was on the verge of a nuclear confrontation. In 1962 the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were both building up nuclear arsenals for quick retaliation. Events in Cuba, where the Russians were locating nuclear ballistic missiles, led to a horrific stand-off, with both nations considering what life might be like in the aftermath of nuclear war.

US authorities were wrestling with the question of how to maintain communications or ensure the survival of any sort of ‘command and control network’ if such a nightmare were unleashed. Paul Baran believed he had a solution. A Polish immigrant, Baran had worked for the Hughes Aircraft Company and taken night classes at UCLA, where he earned a master’s degree in engineering in 1959. That year he joined RAND, a US think tank. RAND (short for research and development) was focused mainly on solving national security issues and Cold War-related military challenges. The main concern was that the long-distance telephone network and military command and control networks were unlikely to survive a nuclear attack. While the lines themselves would probably remain undamaged, an enemy would certainly take out any centralised switching facilities. Facing stiff opposition from those who believed his ideas were unworkable, Baran began devising a more robust communications network using ‘digital’ technology and the concept of ‘redundancy.’

Baran’s system would decentralise the switching so the network could operate even if many of its links and switching nodes had been destroyed. There would be no central authority. All nodes would be created equal and able to originate, pass, and receive messages with their own unique addresses. If parts of the network were damaged each node would look for the next logical route to its destination. Information would be divided into ‘message blocks’ which would be sent separately across the network and pieced together in the correct order only when they reached that desired destination. Baran called his approach ‘hot potato routing’ or distributed communications.

Englishman Donald Watts Davies had independently come up with a similar approach, but called the message blocks ‘packets.’ The rapid store-and-forward design would require each node in a network to hold on to each packet received until it was able to determine the best route to its destination.[49] By 1964 RAND had begun to trial the decentralised approach to networking.

The first hint that an Internet like concept was being seriously considered within the academic community came through a series of memos from J. C. R. Licklider of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in August 1962 about his ‘Galactic Network.’ Licklider, the first head of the computer research program at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)[50], envisioned “a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site.” He managed to convince his successors of the importance of his theories.

A year earlier, in July 1961, the first paper on ‘packet switching theory’ had been written at MIT by Leonard Kleinrock. His book on computer networking, published in 1964, convinced his peers of the theoretical feasibility of communications using packets rather than circuits. Ongoing research into computer communications in the 1960s resulted in the use of low-speed dial-up lines. While this proved that time-shared computers could run programs and retrieve data from a remote machine, it also confirmed that the circuit-switched telephone system wasn’t up to the job. Packet switching was definitely the way forward.

In late 1966 another MIT researcher, Lawrence G. Roberts, further developed the computer network concept at DARPA[51], and the following year published his design for the ARPANET.[52] At the conference where he presented his paper he met with researchers from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Middlesex, England, who had developed the NPL Data Network with Donald Davies. The NPL team were presenting a paper on packet networking and discussed with Roberts their own research and the work done by Paul Baran’s team at the RAND group which had produced a paper on packet switching networks for secure voice communications in the military in 1964[53]. It became evident that the three groups had been working on the same objectives concurrently without knowing of each other’s efforts.

In August 1968, after Roberts and the DARPA-funded community had refined the overall structure and specifications for the ARPANET, they went to market for the key components, including the packet switches or Interface Message Processors (IMPs). Meanwhile, work continued on the architectural design, the network topology, the economics, and network measurement system.

Kleinrock’s Network Measurement Center at UCLA became the first node on the ARPANET and in September 1969 the first host computer was connected to Stanford Research Institute (SRI), where Doug Engelbart was working on his Augmentation of Human Intellect project, an early hypertext system.[54] A month later the first host-to-host message was sent from Kleinrock’s laboratory to SRI. Two more nodes were added at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah. These nodes included application visualisation projects, which were investigating methods for displaying 3D representations and mathematical functions using storage to deal with the problem of refresh over the network.[55]

By the end of 1969 a fourth host computer was connected to ARPANET. Although the bulk of activity was around optimising the design and operation of the network itself, the building blocks for what was to become the Internet were now in place. As its stability was proven and other academic and research organisations became eager to share in this grand experiment, more host computers were added. The network’s intended use was for scientists and researchers to streamline collaborative efforts, but within two years they had transformed the fledgling network into an electronic post office for exchanging everything from technical data to messages about personal hobbies.

Sidebars

Music to our ears

In 1921 a Wellington businessman, Charles Forrest, began transmitting gramophone recordings from a room in the Hope Gibbons building. Although he had no formal permit or licence he had a verbal understanding with the chief telegraph engineer that if his transmissions were causing reception problems at the nearby marine radio station, he would cease until the ship-to-shore communication was concluded.[56]

New Zealand’s first broadcast concert was transmitted from the physics laboratories of Otago University on 17 November 1921 by Professor Robert Jack. He transmitted the first of a series of concerts that included live music and gramophone recordings, heard as far afield as Auckland. He had told the Otago Daily Times in August 1921:

“Wireless telephony will develop rapidly along its own special lines and will tend greatly to strengthen the bonds by which a civilised community is held together and formed into an organised whole. It will give wider publicity to all news of public interest, to speeches and entertainments and will thus tend to bring country settlers into close touch with the life of the town…the life of each community will be broadened and educated by being brought into more effective touch with the life of the whole world. No country stands to benefit more than New Zealand by having the disadvantage of isolation removed.”

Jack, who had had been working on radio at the university since before World War I, suggested that in the future all radio stations would be equipped with radio loudspeakers, so that people could attend a radio concert in the same way that they went to the theatre. His broadcast was finally allowed after a long battle with an unsympathetic Post Office bureaucracy. In 1920 the university authorised him to buy the basic gear, mostly war surplus equipment, to build a transmitter. By April 1921 he had it working well enough to be granted a provisional radio permit by the Post Office, with one ridiculous proviso: they had permission to receive but not to send.

He envisioned monthly concerts where New Zealanders could hear the best of what was available. However the Post Office feared such transmissions might interfere with communications between shipping. He eventually persuaded the Post Office that the distance between his transmitter and those used by shipping at Invercargill was safe for experimentation and was eventually given a permit but had to reapply, submitting his programme for approval, each time he planned to broadcast. In 1922 Jack founded the Otago Radio Association, which became known as 4XD. Refusing to be absorbed into the state system, it lived on to become the oldest broadcasting station in the Commonwealth and among the oldest in the world.

In 1923 the first regulations governing broadcasting were imposed. Anyone planning to become a broadcaster needed to be of good character, include religious material for at least three hours on Sundays and restrict content to “an educative or entertainment character such as news, lectures, useful information, religious services, musical or elocutionary entertainment and items of general interest that might be approved by the Minister from time to time.” Advertising was unthinkable and controversy was banned.[57]

In July 1922 a radio station launched in Wellington that was licensed to operate on a wavelength of 275 metres (1000kHz). The operators were even invited by the P&T to broadcast the 1922 election results. In 1923 the government decided to promote private broadcasting and regulations were introduced that divided the country into regions, specified frequencies and transmitter powers, and banned advertising. The first station licensed under the new regulations was 1YA in Auckland. A licence, costing five shillings, was required to receive broadcast transmissions, and applicants had to supply a character reference and proof of British nationality.[58]

Private broadcast stations flourished during the 1920s and 1930s. However the Broadcasting Act 1936 established state broadcasting under a new government department, the National Broadcasting Service (NBS). By the beginning of World War II all but two of the private stations had been bought by the government.

Radio, and eventually television, broadcasting was largely to be the preserve of the government for many years to come.

Footnotes

  1. Netcraft Web Server Survey, news.netcraft.com/archives/Web_server_survey.html
  2. Quoted from Maurice Williamson, Minister for Information Technology, 1 March 1996, in his foreword to ‘ImpacT 2001: How Information Technology Will Change New Zealand’
  3. R.P.R. Miller, Communications between Great Britain and New Zealand 1860–1987, Dunmore Press, 1994, p17 cited in Elisabeth Airey, The Taming of Distance: New Zealand’s first international telecommunications, Dunmore Press, 2005
  4. Elisabeth Airey, The Taming of Distance
  5. Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia, 5th edition, 2000
  6. In 1837 there were two methods of sending a message along a telegraph line. Wheatstone and Cook’s system required two wires and operators at each end; Samuel Morse’s invention was the preferred technology because it required only a single wire. Messages could be sent at about 35 words per minute using the Morse code, and up to 45 words per minute using Wheatstone and Cook’s apparatus
  7. A.C. Wilson, Wire and Wireless 1890–1987, Dunmore Press, 1994, pp26–27
  8. ‘The Future With Telecom’ report, Telecom 1991
  9. A.C. Wilson, p29
  10. Airey
  11. http://www.cablebayfarm.co.nz/history2.html
  12. Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A.H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 26 September 2006: http://www.teara.govt.nz/1966/p/postoffice/en
  13. Minimum charges for ten-word telegrams in 1868 ranged from a penny a word between nearby stations to eight pence a word for longer routes. A universal rate of one shilling for ten words was adopted in the 1870s. In 1896, sixpence telegrams were adopted to encourage traffic, but by 1915 the postmaster general was speaking publicly of a loss of tuppence on every telegram handled, and the basic rate was increased to eight pence that year and to one shilling in 1920. Charges continued to fluctuate to meet rising costs without noticeable impacting traffic growth. Three and a half million inland telegrams were sent in 1900; 7.25 million in 1920; 4.5 million in 1940; and 7.25 million in 1960. Te Ara Encyclopedia 1966: http://www.treatyofwaitangi.govt.nz/timeline/nz1850.php
  14. Sir Julius K.C.M.G Vogel, from The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 1966
  15. Airey, p13, citing articles in the Nelson Evening Mail 18 February, 1876 and other media coverage
  16. Ibid
  17. Replaced in the 1880s by a Siphon Recorder, which meant one person at each end could now handle trans-Tasman communications
  18. Airey
  19. The cable rate to Great Britain from Sydney was £9 9s 6d for 20 words. Traffic increased when charges were reduced in 1902 with the ‘all-red’ route, jointly owned by the British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand governments. In 1912 a cable was laid between Sydney and Auckland. The Wakapuaka terminal was later abandoned and the cable landed at Titahi Bay near Wellington in 1917. Te Ara Encyclopedia 1966
  20. Alexander Graham Bell’s theory of the telephone confirmed by experiment with the first words spoken on 2 June 1875. The first telephone patent, number 174,465, was issued on 7 March, 1876. The first complete sentence was transmitted by telephone in Boston three days later. US Patent Number 174,465, issued on March 3 for ‘Improvements in Telegraphy.’ The first commercial telephone exchange in the world opened at New Haven, Connecticut, 28 January 1878
  21. Telecom, press release, Diamond Anniversary of the First International Telephone Service (21 November 1990). Also ‘Phone affair began early,’ Briar Averill, Sunday Star Times, 1 February 1998, commemorating the 120th anniversary of the first long-distance telephone call between Dunedin and Milton
  22. ‘The Future With Telecom’ report, Telecom 1991
  23. ‘Speaking Your Language,’ Pacific Way , 1991
  24. A.C. Wilson, p43
  25. http://www.awunz.org.nz/history.htm
  26. A.C. Wilson, p63
  27. http://www.teara.govt.nz/1966/P/PostOffice/InlandTelecommunications/en
  28. Hugh Barty-King, Girdle Around the Earth: The Story of Cable & Wireless, William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1979, cited in Airey, The Taming of Distance
  29. Cable & Wireless was nationalised by the British government in 1947 and all its assets collapsed into the British Post Office
  30. The bulk of this material about the competing cable systems is paraphrased from Elizabeth Airey, The Taming of Distance, Dunmore Press, 2005, with permission from the author
  31. Hamish Keith, New Zealand Yesterdays, Readers Digest, 1984, page 156
  32. From a document which has since been removed from the government’s Radio Spectrum management web site: http://www.rsm.govt.nz
  33. Keith, p156
  34. From a document which has since been removed from the government’s Radio Spectrum management web site: http://www.rsm.govt.nz
  35. Telecom briefing paper, ‘What is a Telephone Exchange,’ December 1991
  36. Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia
  37. Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand 1966 ref Post Office
  38. Caslon Analytics telecommunications history page: http://www.caslon.com.au/austelecomsprofile1.htm
  39. Telecom New Zealand, press release, 21 November 1990, ‘Diamond Anniversary of the First International Telephone Service’
  40. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand 1966 ref Post Office
  41. http://www.atlantic-cable.com/CableCos/NewZealand/index.htm
  42. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand 1966 ref Post Office
  43. There was still some minor use of Morse code through until the 1950s but by the 1962 centennial of its first use in New Zealand it had been superceded by the teleprinter and the telephone. Teleprinters remained in use, one of their main users being the Press Association with its links to various newspapers around the country and as a network of 300 branch-to-branch circuits leased by businesses and government departments. Their use increased from 1964 with automatic telex switching of teleprinter calls on a national network. Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A.H. McLintock, 1966
  44. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand 1966 ref Post Office
  45. Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, Post Office, edited by A.H. McLintock, 1966
  46. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand 1966 ref Post Office
  47. Looking Back to Tomorrow, New Zealand Computer Society, 1985, pp38
  48. Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia
  49. http://www.rand.org/about/history/baran.html
  50. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) changed its name to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1971, then back to ARPA in 1993, and back to DARPA in 1996. We refer throughout to DARPA, the current name
  51. Lawrence G. Roberts, MIT, Towards a Co-operative Network of Time-Shared Computers, October 1966, was the first ARPANET plan
  52. ‘Multiple Computer Networks and Intercomputer Communication,’ the first design paper on ARPANET published by Larry Roberts
  53. Only the RAND study on secure voice was considered to have the goal of building a network that would be resistant to nuclear attack. This was never the goal of ARPANET, although later work on Internetting did emphasise robustness and survivability, including the ability to withstand losses of large portions of the underlying networks
  54. The terms ‘hypertext’ and ‘hyperlink’ were coined by Ted Nelson in 1965 to refer to the structure of a computerised information system through which a user can navigate ‘non sequentially’ or without a pre-structured search path
  55. Based on the collaborative historical document located at the US Internet Society home page (http://www.isoc.org/Internet/history/brief.shtml#Origins), including input from many of the Internet’s pioneers and excerpts from technical papers
  56. Wedderspoon 2003
  57. Keith
  58. Patrick Day, The Radio Years – A History of Broadcasting in New Zealand, Auckland University Press 1994, ISBN 1 86940 094 1
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