A couple of policies out - NZ First, Labour

I've been paying some attention to the policy releases on Internet issues that political parties have been making as the general election approaches. This is the first of a series of posts that are just designed to draw attention to what parties are promising - not to critique them particularly, but to let members and others know what's out and where to find it.

Two parties in this blog post - New Zealand First, and Labour. 

NZ First posted their Manifesto on their website a few weeks ago, and there's an ICT section of a couple of pages beginning on Page 11. 

The main things I noticed in reading it were these commitments:

  • a framework for infrastructure sharing among telecommunications companies;
  • first preference for NZ firms in government ICT contracting;
  • re-considering the Kiwi Share (more often now known as the TSO);
  • adding privacy as a human right in the Bill of Rights Act;
  • a "New Zealand data storage" obligation for government agencies holding personal information; 
  • plans to reduce e-waste;
  • a desire to reduce the incomes and geographic digital divides;

There is plenty more to have a look at.

In a relatively brief policy paper like this detail is obviously not possible. There are some parts that raised my eyebrows - for instance, a commitment to consider setting up an independent regulator for telecommunications is largely already in place with the Commerce Commission (but it is true Ministers retain a role in decisions to regulate new services).

That said, the themes touched on - greater access, security, the importance of privacy and so on - are ones it is difficult to find disagreement with. It's good to see one of the smaller parties in Parliament talking about these issues.

Labour has made two announcements in recent weeks, an ICT announcement (which this post doesn't look at) and an announcement focused on connectivity, which was announced yesterday.

The key points from that announcement were around closing the digital divide, modernising telecommunications regulation and some rights-related proposals (a digital bill of rights, modernising copyright law and so on).

In reading through the eighteen page document, my eye was caught by some other points:

  • a call to join up thinking about Internet infrastructure with thinking about Internet use - in government and more broadly;
  • criticism of the UFB and RBI initiatives (see below for a comment about that);
  • the notion of a broadband universal service obligation in rural and remote parts of NZ; 
  • looking at the feasibility of a cable from the South Island to Australia;
  • some proposed small-scale funds that would assist communities develop their capacity to make use of high-speed broadband; 
  • a reiteration of an education policy announcement which would see government support for people having computing devices in school;
  • looking at the regulatory framework for the distribution of digital content, including bringing broadcasting in part within the ambit of the Telecommunications Act;
  • a first principles review of the Copyright Act.

I was particularly pleased to see a suggestion of increased funding for Computers in Homes (to hit 5,000 families a year). InternetNZ partners with the 20/20 Communications Trust to help widen access to the Internet across the New Zealand community and CiH is one of their key programmes. An expansion of that programme has no downsides, from my point of view.

There's plenty of fodder for close analysis and reading in the Labour Party paper. A number of reviews proposed will be of interest to those following these issues.

As with NZ First, there isn't a lot to disagree with at the high level. 

If I have one disappointment about what Labour has said, it is their stance in respect of the UFB and RBI rollouts. The ultra-fast broadband rollout has some problems, but they're all teething ones in my judgement. In substance, the rollout is ahead of schedule, and take up is where you would expect given availability and the efforts retail providers have put into promoting UFB so far. Issues with install speed or multi-unit dwellings are important, and so are the issues Chorus is facing with copper pricing different to what it expected, but these don't detract from the basic picture of a rollout that is, by and large, working well.

Recent announcements by Chorus of commercial 200mbps services on UFB fibre show that there's upside potential in the UFB initiative still to be explored. Doing that, and helping focus people's attention on how they can use this technology to better their lives at home, at work and in the community, is part of our work. I encourage others to be focusing on that, too.

A final point. I'm not an economist and won't be entering into a "how do we pay for all this" discussion. It's up to political parties to make judgements about how to pay for their policies. We'll focus on what the suggestions are. 

That'll do for now. As other parties announce their policies, I'll do similar posts. I don't promise I haven't missed stuff that is already out there - if you know of a policy that's out and about and ready to be drawn to readers' attention, let me know.