Created by Heyday

1992: The poison from New Zealand

It started in New Zealand and spread world wide like a 90's bird flu pandemic. We were ground zero but when it hit Chile people really got worried. Just how deadly was the poison from New Zealand?

Track of the Year 1992

Fault In The Frog  (Somebody Ate My Planet, 1992)

Able Tasmans - Fault In The Frog (Somebody Ate My Planet, 1992)

The Able Tasmans are one of my favorite Flying Nun bands of all time. Yep, I like my guitars and a bit of volume, but these guys do the business with a fine rhythm section, a mass keyboard attack and Peter Kean’s ever so sweet voice singing its way along the top. A song on global warming, 'Fault in the Frog' sees the Able Tasman's predicting the environment to all go a bit wrong, nearly 20-years ago. All with the added bonus of an absolutely excellent bagpipe intro, some tasteful guitar wongles and some fine string arrangements. Built to last - Roger Shepherd
[ Watch Video: Video from material preserved and made available by The Film Archive ]

Track of the Year by Flying Nun Records

Bulletin Board Systems (BBS)

The lack of Internet access hadn't stopped thousands of Kiwis from exchanging messages electronically, downloading files and playing games together online for a number of years.

As the Internet arrived on our shores, another technology that never hit the mainstream was entering its final days. Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) allowed anyone with a home computer and a modem to dial up another computer. Quite often, these were sitting in a suburban bedroom with a single phone line attached, allowing just one person to interact with the BBS at a time. But with none of the weighty hardware requirements of Internet servers, these boards were providing us with an experience very similar to the fledgling net, and in some cases superior – email, discussion groups, file downloads and on the larger ones, real-time text chat. 

Peter Harrison

On BBSes and the pre-Internet in New Zealand.

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Peter Harrison

These computers would often call one another late at night when call charges were cheapest, passing messages between BBSes – some even making costly international calls. By this method, electronic mail was passed around the world – often taking several nights to reach its destination – providing many with their first taste of digital communications.

Zen and the art of the Internet

Overseas, new users were coming online at a rate that alarmed some of the old, more technical hands. Brendan Kehoe issued the e-book "Zen and the Art of the Internet" to introduce newbies to the ways of the Internet, offering advice such as "netiquette dictates that if you USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, people will think you're 'shouting'. “There are a few well-known people that are acquainted with Usenet… but the overwhelming majority are just normal people”Write as you would in a normal letter to a friend".

He also warned against being fooled by people posing as celebrities, ending with a disappointing: "There are a few well-known people that are acquainted with Usenet and computers in general… but the overwhelming majority are just normal people".

This was also the year that the Internet M-bone was used to deliver video broadcast to those few people with the bandwidth to view it. The first broadcast was a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a low-risk (very) small-audience test prior to the more exciting Rolling Stones concert broadcast online two years later. At that time, Mick Jagger welcomed the Internet to the party announcing: "I wanna say a special welcome to everyone that's, uh, climbed into the Internet tonight and, uh, has got into the M-bone. And I hope it doesn't all collapse".

From BBS to ISP

Unsurprisingly, many of the early BBS operators – or ‘sysops’ – would feature heavily in the early history of our Internet. At first, this surfaced as BBSes that provided a gateway to ‘real’ Internet email or limited feeds of Usenet newsgroups for callers to read. As the demand for the Internet features of some BBSes grew, some of their sysops saw the opportunity to expand a hobby into a paid service. 

Jack Yan

Talks about being dubious on first encounter with the Internet.

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Jack Yan

Jon Clarke's ‘Status’ BBS transformed into the loftily titled ‘Internet Company of New Zealand’, moving from his garage to Airedale St, opposite Telecom's central Auckland exchange. ICONZ, as it became known, joined Actrix from Wellington in providing early public Internet access. At this point, just being a customer of an ISP made you a pioneer. The Wood brothers (Tim and Nick) were early ICONZ customers who started a cybercafé in their bar but then went on to form their own ISP, Ihug, that would make them dotcom millionaires less than a decade later. 

But in 1992 no one was getting rich off providing Internet access. Until this point, the majority of BBSes and indeed Internet connections were available to end-users for free based on the generosity of hobbyists or university funding. However, as more of us started to discover the Internet, strain was put on capacity and the ability of some providers to contain their costs. This reached a head for Victoria University in 1992 when it was forced to have a garage sale of old computers to pay for new hardware to cope with the increased Internet traffic from on- and off-campus.

The poison from New Zealand

In the past two decades New Zealand has made online waves for a number of pioneering firsts. But none had more of a negative reaction than the early decision to charge for Internet access. While NASA was still paying for half of our link's costs – even upgrading the speed of the satellite link by several orders of magnitude in 1992 – it was clear that costs would quickly spiral out of control unless a sensible billing model was put in place. 

The number of local Bulletin Board Services

The number of local Bulletin Board Services

There are around 150,000 computers in New Zealand homes and several thousand people using their modems to dial in to 100 bulletin board discussion groups and services before these are displaced by Internet newsgroups and email.

In Australia access was charged on a ‘flat rate’ basis no matter what the usage. When this lead to greedy consumption overwhelming their link, the problem was resolved by applying for more government funding. With no such backing for our Internet link, John Houlker, gatekeeper of our Internet link at Waikato, was forced to propose a world-first ‘volume billing’ system. 

Charging by the byte was said to be technically impossible and sure to be unpopular, but Houlker and his team made it happen. Complaints made it as far as the National Business Review where the move was decried as ‘not the Internet’ way and against the spirit of sharing. Houlker however maintained it was the only way to provide a reliable – and growing – link to the world.

John Houlker

Describes what the poison from New Zealand is.

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John Houlker

Our infamy grew worldwide when Chile replicated a similar model that was greeted with proclamations that “the poison from New Zealand is spreading”. This billing model cascaded down to end users locally that weren’t to get flat-rate access until 1995, paying $10/megabyte and often with extra charges for time spent online, for the privilege of being connected to the world.

We would claim a small victory against the greedy Aussies when some early-adopters from across the Tasman visited around this time and scoffed at our use of several Internet tools dismissing them with, “they just don’t work” – only they did, on our less congested networks thanks to the billing model Waikato had put in place.

BBSs would continue to be a means of online interaction for some over the next few years but as the price of Internet access came down they would become just a chapter in our Internet history.

Tomorrow: Despite the costs, the burgeoning Internet was starting to deliver features that made it irresistible for more and more people. In 1993, the first accessible Web browser would deliver a new graphic-rich Internet experience. What local pioneer would see this and be so bold as to declare the printed word out-of-date?





  The 1994 Manawatu BBS list in the further reading is actually from after the BBS scene had gone off the boil. There is an earlier list here Several of these ran on hardware that had been disposed of by various organisations because it was faulty. There was enough electronic know-how to repair it and cobble together working PCs to run a BBS on. The bane of most people's BBSing was fridges. The electrical noise from the fridge turning off or on played havoc with modems.  

Robert Singers - Friday 15/1

64kbps satellite link to NASA Ames replaces our 14k4 (originally 9k6) analog cable to Hawaii.


  Created first Database for company in First Choice in DOS, this progressed into MS ACCESS database for the company and then expanded this to a fully functional web based system which enabled us to take a small NZ company to Seven branches around the world - we were innovative and way ahead of the curve in the day, winning two innovation awards and having the first live interactive aircraft maintenance database - which is now running the worlds largest global aircraft maintenance service industry. Not bad for a small kiwi company - run by a man with NO software development training....  

nick preece - Tuesday 23/6

  I rememeber in 1992 or 1993 being involved with one of the first social networks on the net. I joined Foothills - a text only "Talker" - effectively a MUD where people stood round chatting to each other. Hosted on a UNIX box (Marble) at Boston University, connection was by Telnet. With 200 concurrent users and a roll of 10,000 members, it was effectively an internet "city." Written at Warwick University by Simon Marsh (Burble), Foothills must be considered a direct ancestor to Facebook and other social networks. I still work with two Foothillers today!  

Chris Harrod - Saturday 30/10

  In 1992 my external modem was struck by lightning. Whilst it would still dial out just fine, - it could not be set to auto answer by issuing an AT command. My teenage dreams of running a Bulletin Board of my own were shattered.  

Sam P - Thursday 14/10

  Go the bulletin board! In 1992 my favourite BBS was Deep Throat. Other users I met online helped me locate and download all kinds of cool utilities for my Mac Portable – also known affectionately as the Mac Luggable, as it was about the size of a small suitcase. For some incredibly large sum of money I had upgraded the RAM from 2MB to 5MB, so I could open more than one application at once. Smokin'.  

Chris Lipscombe - Thursday 14/10

  BBSs went from being an annoying thing my brother did that tied up the home phoneline, to an exciting online community. The Hamilton BBS scene (!) became a place where I first learned to write for an audience.  

Robyn - Thursday 14/10

  Must have been around '92, I was working at Geological and Nuclear sciences -- I managed to get an account on their Unix machine, download shareware for my Mac, and send a few emails to Mondo 2000. Pretty soon after that I got a Citylink account, rocking it at 1200 Baud.  

Psimon - Thursday 14/10

  As kids, we got our first modem about this time and discovered the joy of BBS. Eventually, down the track, we set up our own...  

Alison - Thursday 14/10

  In 1992 I got a modem for my Amiga. Living in the wops every call to a BBS was a toll call - I had to get a job writing about the Internet to pay my phone bills!  

Thomas Scovell - Wednesday 13/10


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