Labour’s ICT Policy

October 17th, 2011 at 11:06 am by David Farrar

Whale Oil blogged yesterday a leaked copy of ’s ICT policy, which was due for release today. There’s a mixture of good and bad in it. Let’s look with the two big bad issues.

Labour is proposing to levy a special tax on users to fund copyright holders, plus it is effectively proposing that the Government gain the power to regulate the non-broadcast media, allowing it to fine and censor newspapers and maybe even bloggers.

Let’s start with the Internet users tax.

Labour will also investigate the viability of a small copyright levy on Internet access, which would develop the digital platform for accessing Kiwi content mentioned above. Funds raised could go to content creators through an arms length collecting and distribution arrangement.

So vote Labour if you want a tax on Internet users. And like many taxes it might start small but over time it would grow. At first it might fund a content distribution system. Then it might fund projects which close the digital divide. And then it might fund Government websites (as they are done for the benefit of users not Government).

Just as I am against the Government’s DIA filter, because one day it might expand to be a filter against other content, likewise I am against any Internet tax on users.

Not let us look at the plans to control the media. This is not new – Labour looked at the same in their last term of office.

The consultation will also consider the regulatory mechanisms for content that is carried on broadcasting and telecommunications networks. It may be that the functions of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Press Council and the Advertising Standards Authority could be brought together.

Now let us be very clear about this. The BSA is appointed by the Government, and has the power to not just uphold complaints but to fine broadcasters, order statements to be read on air and even to take a broadcaster off the air. The Press Council on the other hand has no powers, except its printed opinions.

Now in a merger (not just a sharing of backend functions), what do you think is more likely to happen under a Labour Government? That the BSA will be replaced by the Press Council or that the Press Council will be replaced by the BSA? But it gets even worse than that – the combined regulator would have power over all content carried on telecommunications networks. So this Government appointed regulator could rule on content on blogs (for example), and if it retains BSA powers even order a blog off the Internet.

The BSA has the powers it has, because the airwaves are deemed the property of the Government, and the BSA so to speak is a condition of leasing them. But newspapers and the Internet are not the property of the Government, do not need Government permission to be used, and the Government should not have content control over them beyond the normal laws of the land.

The only acceptable converage of content regulation is if the self-regulatory model of the Press Council and ASA is extended to broadcasters rather than the BSA model extended to press and the Internet.

So having got past the two big negatives, let’s look through the rest of the policy.

Labour believes a single network regulator for Telecommunications and Broadcasting has merit.

Now on the network side, I agree. I think the two sectors are converging and in terms of competition issues, a single regulator would be sensible.

Labour will investigate creating a Ministry of Communications and IT, based in the Ministry of Economic Development, to bring together all policy involving broadcasting, communications and information technology issues.

A Ministry within a Ministry? So is the CEO of the MCIT responsible to the SSC or to the CEO OF MED?

Labour would appoint a Chief Technical Advisor, who would have responsibility for producing technology roadmaps for New Zealand, for overseeing NZ‟s national digital architecture driving the uptake of ICT across society.

I quite like this proposal, based partly on what Obama did.

Labour will complete the fibre rollout in urban areas within the limit of the $1.35bn of funds available for investment by Crown Fibre Holdings.

Labour at the last election did not commit to fibre to the home. Their total broadband package was $300m compared to $1.5b for National, which would have funded a collection of discrete projects but not a nationwide roll-out to 75% of NZers. It is good they have appreciated the importance of fibre to the home and are committed to carrying on with the spend.

Labour will conduct a public discussion about the objectives and the process for the spectrum auction, and how the proceeds from the auction should be spent in New Zealand, before the auction occurs.

A lot of the document is about reviews and discussions. I thought one could be a bit bolder than that on the spectrum auction. it’s apple pie and motherhood.

Labour will increase funding to Computer Clubhouses for the most vulnerable communities in NZ. Labour will also increase funding to Computers in Homes in order to make more rapid progress in bridging the digital gap. (We have allocated up to $2.7 million a year for the expansion of these two initiatives.)

That’s a nice specific commitment, and they are both very worthwhile projects. Of course we have yet to see how the spending promises will be funded, apart from presumably greater debt. But to be fair the amounts here are fairly modest.

Labour affirms that the fundamental human right to impart and receive information and opinion necessarily includes the ability to access the Internet in order to give practical effect to the right in today‟s world.

Excellent. A very clear statement.

Labour will introduce a bill within 90 days of taking office to remove from the Copyright Act the ability to introduce account suspension for infringing file sharing as a remedy the District Court can impose.

This has been previously released, and welcomed by me. I note suspensions are not available at the moment, and only can be if a future Cabinet decides they are necessary. However it would be a good thing to get the ability removed.

Labour will enact and implement the draft Patent Bill currently before Parliament that excludes computer software.

This is also National’s position, and Government policy.

Labour will issue a binding instruction to government agencies to implement a whole of government approach to open software.

Some specifics of this instruction would be:

  • Require that when the government pays for software to be created, it will be owned by the government, and will be shared within government and with the public using an open source license.
  • Require all software developed under Crown Copyright to be made available to the public on an open source license.

They look good ideas to me.

Labour will set an aspirational target of 2/3 of government agencies using some form of open source software for a reasonable proportion of their software needs by 2015.

I’m a fan of open source software, and its potential. I think the great value it brings is not the cost savings but the community of developers who can innovate with it. However the aspirational target seems rather arbitrary and populaist to me. Why 2/3rds? Why not 80% or 90% or 100%? And what does a reasonable proportion mean? If an agency uses Firefox browsers will that count?

I’m all for reducing the barriers and inertia in parts of Government to make sure open source software gets considered on its merits. But I think there are dangers in central Government setting an arbitrary target. It is not a case of all open source software is good and all proprietary software is bad. One has to weigh up the suitability for the tasks needed.

Labour will establish a Computer Emergency Response Team for New Zealand.

Most countries have one of these. I’m not sure whether this would be part of the National Cyber Security Centre just opened by the Government, or on top of that.

Overall there are some good aspects to Labour’s policy, and it reflects the work Clare Curran has put in getting to grips with the sector. But I’d be a lot lot happier with it if they firmly ruled out any further content regulation of the media and the Internet, and also ditched their policy to look at having a special Internet users tax to fund copyright holders interests.

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39 Responses to “Labour’s ICT Policy”

  1. Manolo (13,749 comments) says:

    NZ Labour, a bunch of despicable socialists in love with high taxation. Curran’s idea is deplorable.

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  2. dog_eat_dog (780 comments) says:

    Did they just arbitrarily force every print media outlet into the Press Council?

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  3. Linda Reid (415 comments) says:

    The ASA is fully funded by advertisers and media – nothing to do with government. And it is widely regarded internationally as the the best in the world. Labour – keep your mitts off it. It costs taxpayers nothing and is very effective.

    I think the Press Council is fully funded by media as well.

    The self regulation format really is the very best way to go.

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  4. rouppe (971 comments) says:

    Labour will set an aspirational target of 2/3 of government agencies using some form of open source software for a reasonable proportion of their software needs by 2015.

    Oh for crying out loud. Government agencies should be using the most appropriate software for the purpose. If it is open source, fine. If not, it should use commercial software. With setting 2/3 target you end up putting in open source because you have to, not because it is best or even logical.

    My employer has a contract with an IT supplier. Because of that we have to use that suppliers software even though some of it isn’t the best. It’s part of the deal. You can’t just legislate this sort of thing.

    Allez le noir!

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  5. Ed Snack (1,872 comments) says:

    A government CTO would be just one more highly paid government flunky who would try to second guess the market and get it all wrong as per usual. Apply clear market rules against monopolies (Telecom, I was looking at YOU, bastards. Last mile costs have always been horrendous in NZ) overcharging and allow as much competition as possible. Then the users will decide what is the most appropriate technology.

    And why does the government need to pay for Fibre to be rolled out, if the demand is there and it is economic to install it will get installed. Make it easy to install (from a planning and permissions point of view) and let it happen, ensure that cross connections are effectively mandatory, and we’ll finish up with an effective solution. That 1.35 Billion is money we have to borrow and get taxed for.

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  6. slightlyright (93 comments) says:

    I can just see there being a raft of incidents with the clubhouses and grooming, only Liarbore could come up with the idea of putting the vulnerable and computers together and not see a problem with that, but then one needn’t look fair within the party and the bensonpopegate, investigategate etc… etc… to see why, it would be far better to support laptops / ipads into schools.

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  7. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    Labours and the Greens answer to everything.

    Tax, tax and more tax.
    An army of bureacrats to administer it.
    More tax to pay for that.
    A list of exemptions for their target groups.
    Drawn up by another army of bureacrats.
    More tax to pay for that.
    A list of pressure groups, sympathetic to their parties, that will benefit from the tax.

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  8. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    If only WhaleOil had saved his “Labour fails on security 101″ bomb for this announcement.

    Hey, has anyone seen Labour’s policy on privacy and security of members information – I hear it’s in full public view !

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  9. Russell Brown (405 comments) says:

    So vote Labour if you want a tax on Internet users. And like many taxes it might start small but over time it would grow. At first it might fund a content distribution system. Then it might fund projects which close the digital divide. And then it might fund Government websites (as they are done for the benefit of users not Government).

    Just as I am against the Government’s DIA filter, because one day it might expand to be a filter against other content, likewise I am against any Internet tax on users.

    In principle it’s no more a “tax” than the performance rights fees collected and distributed by Apra from broadcasts, gyms and cafes are a tax. It is worth discussing.

    [DPF: I think it is more a tax than a levy. Gyms and cafes which do not play Apra music do not have to pay the levy. It's user pays.

    Taxing all Internet users for content, regardless of whether they access it or not is not a levy - it is basically, well a tax]

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  10. Scott Chris (6,135 comments) says:

    Russell Brown says: “In principle it’s no more a “tax” than the performance rights fees”

    Aha, but you are forgetting that any fee proposed by labour is an evil tax grab as defined by the partisan right.

    ~Fuck reason, or discussing an idea on its merits.~

    (mind you, the same fallacious reasoning is inevitably reciprocated by the partisan left)

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  11. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    OK, internat access is expensive in NZ so we are going to impose extra costs to investiage who is making more profit than the govt…. private profit is evil and the capitalists will have their assests seized so Labour can run the net in the best interests of keeping Labour in govt.

    -ends.

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  12. dog_eat_dog (780 comments) says:

    Russell – Explain why I should pay a levy to access the Internet to read the newspaper online or play games.

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  13. nasska (11,478 comments) says:

    If the performers giving performances were performing well enough then they could charge fees per view or similar. This is just another way to steal money from other people & give it to cultural groups who no one would buy a ticket to watch.

    If hakas & hip hop are your thing, great. Otherwise it’s just another sneaky way to make you poorer while ramming someone elses culture down your throat.

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  14. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    @ Comrade Russell

    In principle it’s no more a “tax” than the performance rights fees collected and distributed by Apra from broadcasts, gyms and cafes are a tax. It is worth discussing.

    No, its not. Stop stealing other peoples money.

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  15. Scott Chris (6,135 comments) says:

    nasska

    I see your point. So you’re saying that the government should not support the arts at all?

    I’d like to see government support of the NZSO retained, simply because of the level of refinement of their art is of a sufficiently high standard, but like a flower without water, they would whither away without a subsidy.

    But that’s just me. A hip hopster would only see sample value in this idea.
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    So Herr Lee, you’d like to see the demise of the NZSO?

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  16. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    There is no need for the state to subsidise culture and the arts. The NZSO would easily find financial backing from the wealthy.

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  17. Nick K (1,243 comments) says:

    In principle it’s no more a “tax” than the performance rights fees collected and distributed by Apra from broadcasts, gyms and cafes are a tax. It is worth discussing.

    It’s one thing to place a user-pays levy on gyms, hairdressers and cafes who play music and whose customers listen to it.

    But an across the board tax on me in Auckland because some cafe owner in Wellington plays music out of his computer for his customers is not quite the same.

    In fact, not even close.

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  18. nasska (11,478 comments) says:

    It’s happened. Finally something Lee01 & I agree on. The state has no business backing cultural groups be they ballet, the NZSO or kapa haka. My music preferences are along the lines of ACDC. I don’t expect the rest of NZ to subsidise my ticket to see them any more than I expect to pay for someone else to view a performance of say ‘Swan Lake’.

    The whole issue stinks of cultural elitism.

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  19. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    @ Scott Chris

    So Herr Lee, you’d like to see the demise of the NZSO?

    There would be no demise. Those people who want to support it would do so, and given the numbers of fairly conservative wealthy people who support traditional Western culture, I really do not think the NZSO would have a problem.

    The state has the legitimate right to collect taxes for three reasons only. National Defense (in which I would include civil defense and border control). The Courts and the Police.

    The state has no other purpose. Everything else can and should be done privately.

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  20. backster (2,171 comments) says:

    Adam BENNETT writing a favourable piece on the policy in the Herald seems to have missed the proposal to put a tax on Internet Use.

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  21. Scott Chris (6,135 comments) says:

    nasska says:- “The whole issue stinks of cultural elitism.”

    Fair enough. Point well made.

    I’m all for a bit of cultural elitism, as I see the highest achievements in art as symbolic of our aspirations as a society.

    I also happen to like classical music, so that’s why I made up that last bit.

    I like Bon Scott, but Brian Johnson sounds like someone strangling a hyena.

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  22. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    “In principle it’s no more a “tax” than the performance rights fees collected and distributed by Apra from broadcasts, gyms and cafes are a tax.”

    Dan Quayle says tomatoe, we say tomato
    They say levy, we say tax

    Why should I pay if I do not want to access “Kiwi content”?
    Put it behind a paywall and those who want access can pay for it.

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  23. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    @Scott Chris

    “I’m all for a bit of cultural elitism, as I see the highest achievements in art as symbolic of our aspirations as a society.
    I also happen to like classical music, so that’s why I made up that last bit.”

    We do a deal Scott.
    I am paying tax so you can listen to the NZSO.
    You subsidise my tickets to Roger Waters.
    Fair enough?

    It would of course be a lot simpler if we both just paid our own way.

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  24. Scott Chris (6,135 comments) says:

    Well Andy, I’m arguing from the basis of a sentimental attachment, so there’s just no reasoning with me on this one.

    I’ve payed to go see Dave Gilmour, but I won’t again until he gets over himself and makes up with Roger and the rest of the boyos.

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  25. tristanb (1,127 comments) says:

    In principle it’s no more a “tax” than the performance rights fees collected and distributed by Apra from broadcasts, gyms and cafes are a tax. It is worth discussing.

    The idea is prima facie stupid, and on further thinking remains stupid. This is a tax/levy for a problem that does not even exist!!! In terms of the Apra fee, if I owned a cafe I wouldn’t pay. Personally I think if you’ve bought the CD you should be able to play it where you want, even if it is at work.

    TVNZ and TV3 pay for their own ondemand services at the moment. If I wanted to buy a NZ album online I could.

    Why does Labour think it can take money from me and give it to a bunch of douchebag musicians?

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  26. immigant (950 comments) says:

    Another tax to prop up shitty music and rubbish TV content. Great.

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  27. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    When Labour stop using the term “ICT” like a bunch of school teachers I’ll take them seriously. I am not holding my breath.

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  28. nasska (11,478 comments) says:

    We may have allowed ourselves to be sidetracked in this debate. DPF has mooted a possibility that could threaten about the last medium we have that enables us to criticize government policy. Labour’s proposal would effectively allow their muppets (or National’s) to control the content & discussions within blogs.

    Whatever the overt intention of such legislation is it is what is slithering through the back door under the radar that should be our worry.

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  29. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    They just can’t help themselves can they: MUST PICK WINNERS AND LOSERS …. bloody social engineering – when will people realise socialism is a crock and the gummit has no place deciding what we should be spending our own entertainment budgets on.

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  30. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    nasska, you read too much into Labours’ policy surely, I can’t imagine Curran being able to do anything except cutnpaste the Aussie Labour parties policies

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  31. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    “Labour affirms that the fundamental human right to impart and receive information and opinion necessarily includes the ability to access the Internet in order to give practical effect to the right in today‟s world.

    Excellent. A very clear statement.”

    So access to the Internet is a Human Right.

    Follows:
    1. Access to electricity is a Human Right
    2. Access to cable\fibre is a Human Right
    3. Access to a device to access the Internet is a Human Right

    How is this going to work?

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  32. nasska (11,478 comments) says:

    expat

    It is more the natural socialist desire to micromanage & control every facet of our lives that has my alarm bells ringing. They’re not big on fresh new ideas so anything Stalin, Lenin or Chairman Mao came up with is odds on for recycling.

    To a socialist control is everything.

    Other_Andy

    To them access to the Internet is a human right….what is accessed should be dictated by our betters.

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  33. davidp (3,581 comments) says:

    Other_Andy>So access to the Internet is a Human Right. How is this going to work?

    Strangely, they’re going to add a new tax on this human right so it will be more expensive.

    I’m not making this up!

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  34. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    @Nasska & davidp

    “How is this going to work?”

    Meaning….

    Can prisoners now claim a breach of Human Rights when they are not supplied with a computer?
    Can beneficiaries now claim a breach of Human Rights when they are not supplied with a computer and an Internet plan?
    If I don’t pay my electricity bill, can I now claim a breach of Human Rights when they disconnect me as I cannot access the Internet anymore?
    If I don’t pay my ISP bill, can I now claim a breach of Human Rights when they disconnect me as I cannot access the Internet anymore?
    If I reached my cap can they now not disconnect me anymore without breaching my human rights?
    If I decide to live in a Godforsaken spot somewhere in New Zealand can I now demand that I will have an Internet connection and electricity and if they do not comply, can I sue them for breaching my human rights?

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  35. DRHILL (121 comments) says:

    The tax payer is paying for the UFB network, what Labour is trying to do is make us pay twice.

    I would:

    (1) Make national broadband not count to your cap! (e.g. free TVNZ/TV3/ISky access)
    (2)Give tax breaks to companies like Hulu/Netflix and Itunes to make their content avaliable.
    (3)Get rid of caps within 5 years

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  36. nasska (11,478 comments) says:

    Other_Andy

    I fear that the answer to all your points is ‘yes’. It has to be remembered that the socialists know full well that they will lose the election & won’t have to actually implement any of these featherbrained proposals.

    All they are doing is following Goof by opening their mouths & letting the Nor’wester blow their tongues around.

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  37. Bogusnews (473 comments) says:

    Sigh, if ever there was (yet) another reason not to vote for these guys this is it.

    Remember when Clarke first came to power and they wanted to get NZ into the top half of the OECD? This goal was very quietly dropped after we fell a further two places. Even though our wages had gone up due to the unprecedentedly favourable economic conditions, Labour had clobbered the NZ worker with 41 extra taxes which more than nullified the wage increase.

    So here we go again. If it’s popular, if people use it, if people really enjoy it, then by golly it’s a great thing to tax.

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  38. ben (2,379 comments) says:

    David, with respect, I swear you are turning left in your (young) old age.

    First

    It is good they have appreciated the importance of fibre to the home and are committed to carrying on with the spend.

    Nobody knows what that importance is. No business case for the rollout has ever been done. Nobody knows if or how much value the rollout will add. But given nobody in the private sector could work out how to make money from FTTH, and the major telcos in NZ have been thinking about it for about 15 years now, it is a quite safe assumption that there is no value to be added by rolling out fibre everywhere. If there was, it would have happened already. Adverse selection in the provision of private goods by government is the norm not the exception.

    >>Labour would appoint a Chief Technical Advisor, who would have responsibility for producing technology roadmaps for New Zealand, for overseeing NZ‟s national digital architecture driving the uptake of ICT across society.

    I quite like this proposal, based partly on what Obama did.

    Good god. Do you really see it as government’s roll to be to plan the rollout of new high tech infrastructure? What’s next, a government planner of Apple distribution? What exactly is the problem government is supposed to be solving here? Supplying services that cost more than the revenue they are capable of raising is the wrong answer, at least if your goal is not the needless destruction of prosperity.

    So who is a voter who thinks the role of government is not to plan the roll out of high technology supposed to vote for?

    I rather suspect what may be going on is that after a decade of overt and repeated expropriation of telecommunications shareholders in NZ the business case for investment in politically sensitive technologies and therefore at risk of taking has been destroyed. So nobody wants to roll out infrastructure, fearing regulation or unbundling or outright taking of their sunk investment. This is the road to serfdom.

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  39. ben (2,379 comments) says:

    David I just think your approach on ICT, for whatever reason, is third way socialism in a nutshell:

    a) ICT is good

    b) more is always better

    c) therefore government subsidy of ICT is always good

    This cannot be correct for at least two reasons. One, the government’s budget is finite. Two, and more importantly, there are as always tradeoffs. The question for society is not how to get more ICT. It is how to allocate resources (whether by government or markets) to maximise utility.

    I don’t see anything above that contradicts your implied world view here. Isn’t the business case for FTTH important to be sure resources could not be used in better alternative ways? $1.5 billion can buy a lot of health care or schools or teacher performance pay or deficit reduction or tax cuts and private savings. Why isn’t this important to you? Is it not possible in principle to invest too much in ICT infrastructure? If it is, in your view, at least possible, then isn’t it important to check that?

    Finally, I think the above approach on anything else quickly leads to obvious and needless problems.

    a) National Defence is important
    b) more is always better
    c) the government should re-introduce conscription

    a) Health is important
    b) more health is always better
    c) the government should ban cigarettes and imprison bootleggers and ban McDonalds and specify national minimum daily exercise for every child

    a) transport is important
    b) more transport is better
    c) the government should ban motor cars, raise taxes by the amount of funds freed by elimination of private vehicle spending, and build a massive national public transport infrastructure.

    And so on. There are trade offs. Business cases bring needed acountability. Your argument pointed at anything else leads to absurdity. Choice matters.

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