Friends, the end of the year is upon us. 2019 has been an exciting and, at times, challenging year. There’s been plenty of work to do to help New Zealanders harness the power of the Internet, while also thinking about how we build an Internet for the good of us all.
At the start of the year, I made some predictions - you can see those here: Andrew’s predictions for the Internet in 2019
And now that 2019 is drawing to a close, it’s time for me to look at just how good my crystal ball was…
1. The Rugby World Cup proves the Internet is ready for primetime
I’m taking a point for this one. The Internet connectivity around New Zealand was up to the task; we have world class fibre infrastructure out to 75% of New Zealand homes thanks to the completion of the first phase of the fibre rollout, and that’s supported by better mobile and fixed wireless solutions too. The Internet connectivity part of that solution worked well.
That doesn’t mean that there weren’t issues, and these issues are more important than just the Rugby World Cup. There were challenges with the technical solution that managed the streaming content. I applaud Spark for having contingency plans to “fall back” to TVNZ when necessary, and they learned more about the tech as the tournament went on. Anecdotally, it also seems many New Zealanders had challenges with the equipment in their homes — whether their TVs and Wi-Fi was up to scratch for example. There are important lessons here in managing expectations and issues in helping Kiwis know how to configure their gear to use services like this. And I must acknowledge the lingering issues with availability of great connectivity for those in rural New Zealand.
While I’m counting this as a point, these lessons are important. If the Internet is going to be used for more distribution of content like live sports, more work needs to be done to make sure New Zealanders’ know how to configure their homes to make the most of it; to manage the technology to make it as reliable as possible, and to continue the work being done to fill in the infrastructure gaps.
The Rugby World Cup showed what is possible, but it also showed there’s a bit more work to be done to realise this potential. And… the less we say about helping the All Blacks win the better (lol?).
2. Social media faces a regulatory smackdown
I don’t think this panned out the way any of us were expecting it to, given the tragic events of 15 March. I take no pleasure in saying that the horrible events of Christchurch have led to some big questions being asked about the role of social media and how it impacts our society — both in New Zealand and around the world.
The Christchurch Call process has shown what can be possible when countries band together to expect more from social media. It’s also unfortunately shown some gaps in inclusive processes that take all stakeholders along for the ride. Some good steps have been made, but I still wonder what could have been or what still could be, if more voices were able to participate. Throw on top of that some big questions about name suppression that came up during 2019 and it still feels like there’s huge gaps here in terms of reasonable regulation of social media. And to give some credit where credit is due, the large platforms have done some work to address these challenges as well.
Where to next? I genuinely don’t know. We have these huge, billion of users platforms that host behaviours that sometimes harm our societies and democracies. We lack tools to address these challenges, both in an international sense and in terms of little old New Zealand. There is some light here though; the Prime Minister has said that social media regulation is on the agenda in 2020 in response to the attacks in Christchurch. That’s an opportunity to not only address the issues that arise from 2019, but also get a look at these bigger themes as well. You can check out the blog from our Policy Director Kim Connolly-Stone to see what our Policy team has been doing on that front.
3. New Zealand comes under pressure to weaken encryption
Again, this one didn’t play out the way I expected it to, in part due to Christchurch as well. Encryption remains a “boogeyman” for law enforcement and national security reasons. That said, we haven’t seen the New Zealand government move to do silly things like the Australians in 2018. I still chuckle when I remember “the laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”
While we haven’t seen moves in New Zealand, this has still been an active issue in some of the other “five eyes”. For example, the US seems intent on keeping Facebook from rolling out encrypted messaging as default as one of the newer fronts in this debate.
This continues to be a live issue and we trust that the New Zealand Government understands the critical role that encryption plays in a flourishing online world to help us work, shop and play. That’s because encryption remains an essential part of how the modern Internet works; a vital way of securing any number of everyday services online. There’s still room for New Zealand to have honest conversations about how to keep a secure, workable Internet and address the challenges around security and law enforcement.
I anticipate that an encryption debate may still happen here in New Zealand. I hope we all get the chance to participate in that debate in a way that works for both the maths and the law.
4. New Zealand commits to closing digital divides
Slowly… slowly… some good things are happening here. Commitment may still be lagging a bit, but the Government is listening and moves are afoot. And about time too — we have world class infrastructure either available or coming soon to the vast majority of New Zealanders. Those investments will be wasted if we don’t also address the other parts of the inclusion challenge — making sure that all New Zealanders have the skills, motivation and trust to use this connectivity to do great things online for themselves, their families and their communities. Making sure that no New Zealander is excluded due to Internet being unaffordable. And of course, working to make sure that those people that still don’t have world class connectivity get solutions soon too.
In May, the then Minister for Government Digital Services, Megan Woods, released the Digital Inclusion Blueprint and Action Plan. This was a long awaited document that lays out the Government’s plan to help more New Zealanders access the benefits of the Internet. We look forward to seeing the actions progress.
I’m taking half a point here. I wish more was done in 2019. That said, I’m pleased and excited by the progress I’m seeing to provide all New Zealanders with digital inclusion. Our team at InternetNZ is working on this now. We have a good plan, working with Government and the New Zealand Internet community to catalyse progress and show what may be possible.
With an election in 2020, I’m hoping we see real commitments being made at a political level to realise the amazing potential we have set up with world class infrastructure to so many New Zealanders. That could be truly transformative for our country. We’ll keep pushing for this during 2020 too — and you should be asking your MP to do what they can in the lead up to the next election too.
1.5 out of 4
That’s my worst strike rate ever. Regardless of my powers as a soothsayer, 2019 has been an important and challenging year for the Internet in New Zealand. We’ve had to ask some big questions about what it means when we stand for helping New Zealanders harness the power of the Internet. I’ll also be brave enough to gaze into my crystal ball early in the New Year and make some guesses about what 2020 may hold.
For now though, let me wish you all happy holidays. InternetNZ looks forward to working with you all in 2020. We do our best work when we work together, to address these opportunities and challenges with the weight of our combined expertise, perspectives and challenges. Because our Internet is for all of us, and how we use it together remains a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand.
Meri Kirihimete and a happy New Year!