In praise of the NZ Government

It is so easy to see faults and shortcomings in what the NZ Government has done in the Internet area. Once in a while, not too often, it is worth stepping back and look at the good things. Otherwise, instead of a balanced view of how things are going, we fall into the trap of only reinforcing the negatives. It needs to be objective praise, not the blind faith of political supporters.

Here’s my top 10 list of the positives in the last few years of this Government. I have excluded work-in-progress that may or may not end up being praise-worthy, such as the 700 MHz auction (‘digital dividend’) and Network for Learning.

1. At the top of the list is UFB and RBI undoubtedly. Fibre to the home is the sort of bold, long term, fundamental change that will drive New Zealand’s future. A by-product, the break up of vertical integration of the incumbent, sets the right incentives for the telco industry. Within the RBI footprint, people and businesses will finally get Internet access better than miserable dial-up. Cellphone coverage outside the cities will also improve.

2. As I’ve said previously, the Government’s position at WCIT last year to resist greater control of the Internet by authoritarian governments was exemplary. A continued commitment to the multi-stakeholder approach for Internet governance is clearly welcome.

3. There has been deliberative rather then knee-jerk responses to some of the social challenges that the Internet amplifies: privacy, regulation of ‘new media’, and cyber-bullying.

4. So far at least, the Government has continued funding of some important social initiatives and public good activities. This includes NetSafe, Computers in Homes, Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa, and Ngā Pū Waea. There is also part-funding of Creative Commons Aotearoa and the World Internet Project NZ. In addition, priority is being put into digital literacy in Adult and Community Education.

5. There has been some progress in improving cyber-security. Perhaps the most important is structural- creating the National Cyber Policy Office directly in the Prime Minister’s sight.

6. Flexing its muscles has seen trans-Tasman roaming rates decline. Telecom’s fixed, per-day mobile data rate in eight countries has been a direct result. A continued focus on mobile termination rates is also positive.

7. Steady progress continues to be made in the area of Open Data. The Declaration on Open and Transparent Government points to actively releasing taxpayer funded data for re-use. In addition, specific targets have been set for a one-stop online shop for businesses (Result 9) and for New Zealanders to complete transactions with government easily online (Result 10).

8. The troublesome section 216 of the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, which would have introduced a new criminal liability on ISPs for breach of name suppression by their customers, was completely removed.

9. Perhaps damning with faint praise, at least the Government did not bring Internet account termination provisions into force when pushing through the 3strikes copyright law.

10. This one is a bit of a stretch but helps me get to a nice, round 10: refraining from prosecuting Keith Ng’s exposure of security weaknesses of the WINZ kiosks. Contrast that with, say, the DoJ’s treatment of Aaron Swartz.

Of course the Government could do so much more, so much better. But that’s one itch I’ll resist in this post.

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