Top 10 predictions for the Internet in 2017

Andrew CushenA blog post from Andrew Cushen, Deputy Chief Executive at InternetNZ
16 January 2017

Welcome to 2017! Last year I scored 7.5/10 for my predictions for the Internet in 2016 - what will it be like this year?

As per usual, there’s a mixture of threats and opportunities here. That’s the nature of the Internet. It’s up to each of us to find ways to use the Internet that creates value, connection and innovation. New Zealanders are pretty good at seeing that upside too; we learned last year that 89% of New Zealanders believe that the positives of using the Internet outweigh the negatives.

Likewise, it will be up to all of us to try manage the risks I talk about below, and to maximise the opportunities.  With that in mind, here’s my predictions for the Internet in 2017.

 1.  New Zealand commits to fair use of copyright

In recent years, innovation-friendly countries have changed their law to allow flexible fair use of copyright works. Singapore and Israel have adopted fair use, following the USA which has recognised this flexibility since the 19th century. Expert reports in Australia continue to recommend that they follow suit - see the report of the Australian Productivity Commission, which recommends a broad and flexible fair use exception to better enable innovation.

It bears reminding that this isn’t about depriving creators of a fair return - all of the countries and reports we see recommending fair use recognise that. It is about promoting a fair balance in copyright that allows for innovation, reuse and creativity whilst still encouraging creation. New Zealand is increasingly out of step here, and it’s time for us to address that balance. That doesn’t mean that the big copyright players won’t scream foul play - but they seem to be against the tide of history, and against increasing evidence that fair use is better for everyone.

We’re keen on seeing the same here too - and our previous work on this makes that case clear. New Zealand’s copyright laws are likely to be reviewed in 2017, and I predict New Zealand will want to join the most innovative nations, committing to an appropriate flexible fair use exceptions here too.

PREDICTION:  In 2017, New Zealand commits to extending copyright law to include fair use provisions.

2.  The CERT saves the day!

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New Zealand's new CERT - a computer emergency response team - will open its doors in March this year. The day can't come soon enough - we've been advocating for this function for over a decade. As more of New Zealand's ideas, innovations and commerce goes online, the more attractive it is to snoop on and steal that information.

A CERT is a basic part of protecting a modern society and economy - and we think that it will prove its worth pretty early after being turned on. We will see more coordinated responses to threats that emerge; more proactive threat monitoring and better protection for New Zealand businesses and homes of all kinds.

I predict that the CERT will prove its worth pretty quickly, stepping up to the plate and managing the best response we've seen to a large digital threat.

PREDICTION: The NZ CERT will run incident response on a national scope cyber incident in 2017.
BONUS POINT: The incident is in relation to the New Zealand general election.

3.  The Internet of Things goes into a meltdown of poor security practice

We’ve seen the start of this already - huge botnets of poorly configured Internet of Things devices being turned into weapons for attacking parts of the Internet. Too many devices are being sold with poorly configured and poor, or just non-existent, security baked in. It’s scary stuff - and unfortunately, I predict that in 2017, it will get worse. We could see our first DDOS attack that goes over two terabits for example - and that could be enough to shake even the biggest of web services.

That’s a real shame too. Connecting ever more devices to the Internet is an area of significant potential for New Zealand, and for real time control of any number of services. That has the potential to completely transform how we think about some of these services, as they become more responsive to demand and more rich in the data and insights that they offer. This potential won’t be realised if poor security practice causes the Internet of Things to go into meltdown.

Something has to change unless we want a swarm of connected cameras, toasters and fridges to be the biggest threat to the open Internet that we’ve seen in a long time. We’re thinking about this as we continue our work on the Internet of Things (you can still see our Speaker Series event on this here) - and we are still looking for your thoughts and comments too. Let us know!

PREDICTION: A major electronics retailer will be forced to issue a product recall of an IoT device due to it leaking personally identifiable information of consumers.

 4.  The Telco Act review kicks copper to the curb

2017 will likely be the year we see a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act. That Act is vitally important for the Internet in New Zealand, as it sets out how wholesale broadband prices are set (and by who). It ensures that the likes of Chorus and the new Local Fibre Companies are charging reasonable prices for their near-monopoly services.

What's worrying us is that too much of the review's initial thinking seems to be designed to keep copper-based tech as a viable technology choice. That's done through setting impractically poor targets for the speed and performance of broadband - targets that are designed to keep copper relevant rather than incentivising the whole potential of fibre.

That's a shame. Copper has served New Zealand well for a long time, but for most New Zealanders, fibre is simply a better alternative. It performs better; it's more reliable, and thanks to the difference in underlying wholesale prices, it should be cheaper too. If we take away the regulatory shackles that saw the initial rollout running at deliberately slow speeds, it'll be an even more attractive proposition. Gigabit is the new megabit, after all.

The wrinkle - and it's an important one - is that a significant proportion of predominantly rural New Zealanders are reliant on the old copper network. We know that there are new technologies that will change that, and sooner than most people realise, too. The Rural Broadband Initiative is showing the way that better investment can be driven in rural New Zealand, in a tech-neutral, competitive manner. Commercial operations using the spectrum freed by the move to Digital TV broadcasting is also leading to new, much stronger commercial options.

I predict - and hope - that the Government will see this potential too, and will prepare a new Telco Act that encourages and incentivises efficiency and performance - and therefore makes our Internet better. That means pulling out the biases that favour copper, because these really are starting to hold New Zealand's Internet back.

PREDICTION: The outcome of the Telco Act review will remove protections for copper networks.

5. Election 2017 includes some big promises for fibre everywhere

Phone iconThe next General Election is (already!) just around the corner, so prepare for some promises about the Internet in New Zealand too. It's actually been a reasonably long time since the 2008 promises to build fibre to 75% - nine years! - and with the completion of that UFB build now in sight I wouldn't be surprised if some parties want to up the ante. The last election campaign in 2014 saw promises made to extend UFB to around ~80% of the country, and we're sure contracts for that will be in place before we go to the polls this year.

There are some significant changes afoot too. The Land Access debate has been bubbling along under the surface a bit, particularly the most significant potential change of allowing use of power poles to roll out fibre without undue process and restriction. We've spoken up in favour of that, because if that was allowed, it has the potential to dramatically change the cost of rolling out fibre into some remote and rural parts of New Zealand. In fact, Northpower already has a pretty advanced model ready to deploy for doing just that. Down South, there's also an interesting model from EA Networks and Ultimate Broadband - customers within reach of fibre can get it, and for those further out, the fast fibre network supports better wireless connectivity.

More measures like this could change the game for fibre rollouts to more people - and the cost necessary to do so.

I wouldn't be surprised if that catches the eyes of some of our politicians, and they start to think about what could come next after the UFB. For that reason I predict that 2017 could therefore be the year that a significant (i.e. in Parliament) political party promises fibre to nearly everywhere. As well, what people argue is the "minimum reasonable" connection will be significantly higher by the end of the year than it is today.

PREDICTION: A political party with members in Parliament makes an election promise of fibre to match the current copper footprint - about 98% of all New Zealanders

6.  Encryption keeps getting demonised

Unfortunately, and as I've said before, we live in scared and scary times. The threat of terrorism is often in the news, and when it is, it's often accompanied by a story about how the terrorists used encryption to hide their evil plots from the authorities. "Something must be done" to control user-enabled encryption, politicians cry. We've seen that cry here too.

It's a frustrating debate for so many reasons. Firstly, because it's impossible to design an encryption method that only the "good guys" are allowed to look into. The idea that you can build a "backdoor" into encrypted tools is a fallacy - you can't without ruining it all together.

The second frustrating factor is that encryption isn't evil - it's a necessary part of making the Internet work. We couldn't do online banking without encryption. We couldn't send trusted email to people without it either. In fact, we couldn't trust and rely on the Internet in the way we do in thousands of ways without some way of protecting what we send through it. By way of a simple analogy - there's a reason why very little mail was ever postcards. No one wants their private communications available to be seen by everyone.

The third frustration is my prediction for this in 2017: and that's despite the last two, Governments continually bring up curbing or banning encryption as a necessary response to terrorism. I predict that this will come up again in New Zealand - either because a Minister will again float it as being necessary, or because we will see another developed economy do the same. I hope I'm wrong, but if I'm not I assure you that InternetNZ will speak up about how terrible an idea that is.

PREDICTION: A New Zealand Member of Parliament will publically advocate an outright ban on the use of all forms of encryption in New Zealand for 'national security' reasons.

7.  Trump will change the global Internet

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The new President of the United States potentially represents a significant change to the nature of the Internet, and of Internet governance, around the world. When so much of the Internet; its applications, designs and tools originate from the United States, his potential impact can't be underestimated.

Trump has already criticised ICANN gaining control over the IANA functions, in lieu of the US Government - a move that increases the role and control of the international multi-stakeholder community over the Internet we share. He's also stated that he thinks that "computers have complicated lives very greatly."

For that reason, I don't know whether or not Trump would agree with the 89% of New Zealanders that think the positives of using the Internet outweigh the negatives. His statements could represent a big change in the norm that we've experience prior to now, of optimism in technology and a desire to embed and realise its potential to do and make things better.

PREDICTION: The Internet community will be forced to come together to address the impacts of a Trump administration policy regarding Internet infrastructure, access to it, or freedom of its use.

8.  The Government makes a push on realising the benefits of connectivity

I predict that 2017 will be the year that the New Zealand Government gets more active in driving the benefits of connectivity. We've seen some sprouts along the way - the creation of Network 4 Learning being a fantastic example of driving utilisation in a core Government service.

However, we haven't seen anyone owning the wider economic opportunities that are available - the $34 Billion one for example that I've already mentioned so, so many times (because it is so good!). That's because when in doubt, the Government has tended to think that "businesses have the incentive to do this themselves" and then wonder why it doesn't actually pan out like that.

Happily, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has a new Digital Economy team on board to think about how to change that - and in talking to them, I'm optimistic.

Here's hoping I'm right then, and that 2017 is finally the year we see some bigger innovations start to be led by the Government in making use of the Internet in New Zealand.

PREDICTION: The New Zealand Government announces a major initiative to encourage the digital economy in New Zealand.

9. Tech education gets a shake up for our Internet age

people iconIf there's one aspect of our Government that needs a shake up urgently, it's the education sector. New Zealand is risking losing out on the full range of innovations and opportunities for New Zealand and the Internet because the education system is not adapting to this changing world. And because we aren't equipping the next generation with the skills and the mindsets to work in the emerging, technology enabled economy. More and more people are starting to get quite concerned about that lack of adaption too.

It isn't all doom and gloom. There are some fantastic innovations happening, such as Manaiakalani and the Mindlab - and I'm sure I am doing others an injustice here by not listing them. The common feature seems to be that these innovations are happening despite Government involvement, not because of it.

My prediction is that 2017 we will see that change, and the Government through the Ministry of Education
will step up to the plate with a vision of how education will change to take advantage of the Internet and technology. That change will better enable young New Zealanders to drive the next wave of Internet innovation.

PREDICTION: The Ministry of Education announces a significant curriculum change establishing technology education as an industry-relevant subject area at secondary school level, to the acclaim of the many potential employers crying out for skilled young people.

10. We'll see a big international tech company move here because of the Internet

We have something special here in New Zealand - an Internet that has the potential to be world leading. I like to think that others are noticing that too.

My last prediction is therefore an audacious one, but I hope I am right. I think 2017 will be the year that Silicon Valley comes to us, enabled by the rollout of fibre, and we'll see a big player in the international tech space commit to a large New Zealand development presence.

That, on top of our ever stronger domestic leaders like Xero, TradeMe and Vend, will increase the perception that New Zealand is a place where Internet-enabled innovation happens.

PREDICTION: New Zealand sees its first Silicon Valley style 'unicorn' based here in 2017. InternetNZ coins the term 'Moa' to describe New Zealand unicorn companies.

There we have it

So there we go - will I do better than 7.5 this year? I write these lists to encourage discussion, challenge and debate too, so what do you think will be on the horizon this year?