The Internet economy potential

March 31st, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand retailers are falling behind other sectors of the economy in their use of the internet to drive sales and business management, says a major new study funded by internet NZ and the global internet search engine, Google.

The “Value of internet Services to New Zealand Businesses” report, issued this morning, says firms using the internet well are between 6 per cent and 11 per cent more productive than their competitors in the same field. Best practice users were as much as 73 per cent more productive than average businesses in their industry.

The report suggests if all businesses were using the internet to its full potential, New Zealand’s economy – currently worth around $210 billion of output annually – could get a $34 billion efficiency and productivity boost.

Maybe retailers should stop trying to tax the Internet and should embrace it more!

The research was conducted by the economic research consultancy Sapere and used data from 5,589 businesses in the Statistics New Zealand Business Operations Survey.

It excluded firms in the information technology sector, which were presumed to be high internet users and interviews with 76 businesses were conducted in the tourism, retail, dairy/agriculture, and professional services sectors.

The report says while internet speed and connectivity were once the major issue, that is no longer so. The use to which the internet is put is the larger issue for most firms.

In the retail sector, where the common complaint is that e-commerce is robbing traditional shops of sales, the survey found retailers were “slightly lower users of internet services than businesses as a whole.”

“They are less likely to have a website, less likely to have most of their staff online, and less likely to use fibre, with bigger firms generally higher users than smaller firms.

“On our numbers, it is highly unusual for retailers to be selling a lot online at this point, with only 3 per cent of firms reporting that more than a quarter of their sales are made online, although retailers are heavy online purchasers.”

And of interest:

It reports one service provider as saying no more than one in 12 New Zealand retailers was doing a good job of integrating online and offline stores.

So huge potential there if it is grasped. The full report, for those interested, is here.

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Congratulations Jordan

July 3rd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

InternetNZ has appointed its former policy manager and one-time Labour Party candidate Jordan Carter as chief executive.

Carter had been serving as acting chief executive of the non-profit society since January following the sudden departure of former boss Vikram Kumar, who quickly went on to secure the role of chief executive of Kim Dotcom’s new online storage service, Mega.

InternetNZ said 36 candidates had applied for the position.

Carter stood down from InternetNZ in May 2011, after seven years at the organisation, when he was confirmed as a Labour-list candidate in the November 2011 general election. He was 40th on Labour’s list and missed the cut-off.

He today ruled out a return to politics “in the next few years” and said he would not be standing in the 2014 election.

He did not believe his decision to stand for Labour in 2011 would cause complications in InternetNZ’s relations with the current Government.

“I have been involved in this sector for so long, people know my roots are in the ICT policy area. It is completely transparent what my political views have been but they don’t colour what I do professionally.”

InternetNZ president Frank March said Carter had a deep understanding of internet policy and research and was “fully across the intricacies of regulation concerning the internet and ICT more generally.”

Carter said an “open and uncapturable internet” was essential to New Zealand’s prospects.

I think Jordan will do an excellent job, and he did well to beat out many top class candidates who applied.

I’ve worked closely with Jordan on Internet issues for well over a decade. He has a superb grasp of policy, a strategic mindset and is also an excellent administrator. The nice thing about InternetNZ is that it has members from all over the political spectrum, united in their belief that the Internet should remain open and uncaptureable and sharing InternetNZ’s goal of protecting and promoting the Internet in New Zealand. In 2005 I was the Acting President, and Jordan the Acting Chief Executive for a couple of months. We also happened to be rival campaign managers for National and Labour in Wellington Central. We would meet or talk several times a day on InternetNZ issues – and then inevitable see each other in the evenings at Meet the Candidate meetings as wee would vocally support our chosen candidates. It was surreal, and amusing.

I don’t see Jordan’s political background as a big issue. I was always grateful that when David Cunliffe was Labour’s ICT and Comms Minister he would work with me on Internet issues, despite my National background.  I was very supportive of Cunliffe’s efforts to bring in anti-spam legislation, and to increase competition in the telco sector by requiring operational separation of Telecom.  Part of politics is working in good faith with people on issues you agree on, even when you disagree on other issues.

So congrats to Jordan and InternetNZ. Next week is the annual Net Hui in Wellington, which as usual already has a large waiting list, as (off memory) already over 500 people registered to attend. Hope to see many people I know there.

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A good move from the Govt on patents

May 9th, 2013 at 1:25 pm by David Farrar

Craig Foss has announced:

Commerce Minister Craig Foss has today released a supplementary order paper (SOP) to clarify issues around the patentability of computer programmes in the Patents Bill.

“Following consultation with the NZ software and IT sector, I am pleased to be further progressing the Patents Bill with this SOP. These changes ensure the Bill is consistent with the intention of the Commerce Select Committee recommendation that computer programs should not be patentable,” says Mr Foss.

Today’s change is to codify a test set out in UK case law to provide clarification around the “as such” wording used in SOP 120 (tabled 28 August 2012).

“I would like to thank the NZ software and IT sector for their engagement over the last few months. I’m confident we’ve reached a solution where we can continue to protect genuine inventions and encourage Kiwi businesses to export and grow.

The SOP is here. A key extra clause is:

A claim in a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such if the actual contribution made by the alleged invention lies solely in it being a computer program.

There had been considerable concern that the previous proposed wording with the “as such” clause could lead to a lack of clarity in the law, and that it might not achieve its intention that software is not patentable. This extra clause provides that clarity and is excellent news from the Government and Minister,

To also achieve greater clarity, the SOP provides an explicit example of what is not patentable in terms of software, namely that a chip for a washing machine is, but an online filing software system is not (the code is copyrighted though).

The Institute of IT Professionals has welcomed the announcement:

The Institute of IT Professionals, New Zealand’s largest IT representative body, strongly supports the Government’s announcement today clarifying that software will not be patentable in New Zealand, removing a major barrier to software-led innovation. …

“The Institute thanks Minister Foss for responding to industry concerns, clarifying the Patents Bill’s intention to remove patentability of software and for taking extra steps to ensure the law around software patents is clear and unambiguous,” Matthews said. “Software will not be patentable in New Zealand and a major barrier to software innovation has been removed”.

“We also acknowledge the work of United Future’s Peter Dunne, Labour’s Clare Curran and other political parties who have listened to the industry’s concerns and contributed towards a solution,” Matthews said. “It’s great that all parties support software-led innovation in New Zealand.”

I’d agree with the IITP that MPs from several parties helped contribute to getting a law that will be clear and good for New Zealand. The recommendation to do so was a unanimous one by a select committee.

Ian McCrae, chief executive of New Zealand’s largest software exporter Orion Health agreed, saying today “We welcome this announcement. Under the current regime, obvious things are getting patented. You might see a logical enhancement to your software, but you can’t do it because someone else has a patent. In general, software patents are counter-productive, often used obstructively and get in the way of innovation. We are a software company and as such, our best protection is to innovate and innovate fast.”

John Ascroft, Chief Innovation Officer of Jade Corporation said “We believe the patent process is onerous, not suited to the software industry, and challenges our investment in innovation.”

Orion and Jade together account for around 50% of software exports from New Zealand.

The decision is also welcomed by InternetNZ:

InternetNZ (Internet New Zealand Inc) welcomes today’s tabling of a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) that makes it clear that computer software is not patentable in New Zealand. …

The question of software patents has been an important issue for InternetNZ for several years. InternetNZ has previously made submissions on the issue, noting that software is inextricably linked to the good functioning of the Internet. Patenting software would not only make the continued development of the Internet more difficult, it would reduce innovation and could well stymie interoperability of various software platforms.

InternetNZ spokesperson Susan Chalmers says InternetNZ is happy to see the issue now resolved and looks forward to the passage and implementation of the Patents Bill, a long-awaited and much needed update to a large component of New Zealand’s intellectual property regime.

So it is a good outcome all around. Congratulations to Craig Foss for constructively working with industry groups to get this issue resolved, and kudos to other MPs such as Peter Dunne and Clare Curran who supported getting a good law.

I’m personally very pleased that National has taken a balanced approach on intellectual property issues. While of course there are areas of disagreement, the current Government has consistently moved things in the right direction. To name a few:

  • Repealed the previous three strikes guilt upon accusation copyright law
  • Suspended the provision for termination of Internet accounts for repeat copyright infringement
  • Set the copyright infringement filing fee at $25, $5 higher than recommended by officials
  • Kept the fee at $25 when reviewed, despite massive opposition from the MPAA
  • Have consistently rejected the US proposed IP chapter for the TPP
  • Amended the law to exclude software from being patentable

Now as I said, there are still a few areas I’d like further change. but overall the direction in the last few years has been a positive one.

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Chalmers on TPP

December 18th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Susan Chalmers writes at the NZ Herald on the TPP:

I’m not an economist, but I do understand what a net loss or a net gain is. Most people will be familiar with the concept – at the end of the day, are you better or worse off? To figure that one out you need to know what you’ve brought in, and what you’ve paid out.

We’ve recently heard what New Zealand could bring in under the Trans Pacific Partnership – US$2.9 billion by 2025. But that figure is based on a hypothetical situation involving 21 countries, not the 11 that are negotiating. Even so, the Prime Minister recently embraced and advanced this figure.

What’s missing? Our leaders haven’t told us what the costs will be.

The biggest cost that New Zealand could sustain under the TPP would be in the intellectual property, particularly copyright. This is because the most powerful party to the negotiations – the United States – is a net exporter of copyrighted goods (movies, books, TV shows, songs, games, etc) while all other TPP parties are net importers.

The interests that drive US trade policy in copyright are Hollywood and the recording industry. They want stronger and more powerful legal rights that would bring more money to them, often at the expense of many different sectors of society and business.

I’m all for the benefits of liberalising trade with other countries. That does provide benefits. But as Susan says, we also have to be aware of the costs to New Zealand, if the TPP includes US drafted changes to our copyright laws.

The Government has rightly said that any decision on TPP will be based on whether it is a net gain to New Zealand. But again, one can only calculate a net gain if you actually calculate the costs.

Now ideally NZ holds firm and doesn’t agree to any provisions that require changes to our IP laws.

Since the Government has not run its own analysis of potential costs, perhaps we can look elsewhere for guidance. Australia is a good place to start. Like New Zealand, Australia is a net importer of copyrighted goods and wants better access to the US agricultural markets – for sugar and beef exports in particular. …

A report from the Australian Productivity Commission – the Government’s independent research and advisory body – indicated that Australia suffered a net loss under AUSFTA as a whole because of accepting the US copyright demands.

Maybe the NZ Productivity Commission could look at the the benefits to the NZ economy of balanced IP laws?

So why has our political leadership not talked about the costs of accepting the US copyright demands? For instance, the cost of paying decades more in royalties to overseas companies, losing parallel imports, not to mention all the taxpayer money to support US copyright litigation here in New Zealand.

Trade agreements are meant to liberalise trade. Banning parallel imports is putting up barriers to trade.

Regardless of the reason for our leaders not acknowledging the potential costs, it is now time to run that analysis, as any normal business would. New Zealand’s copyright negotiators have been holding the line throughout 15 TPP rounds, working to stave off these costs for the country. Let’s encourage our elected officials not only to give them some support, but to explain exactly what the country is about to commit to. Shouldn’t we know?

We should.

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Internet policy issues

November 19th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve been involved with InternetNZ and Internet policy issues for around 15 years now. One of the things I enjoy is the intellectual challenge, as you deal with such a huge diversity of issues. InternetNZ staff compiled the below list of issues that have been discussed at our policy meetings in 2012.

  1. 111 System Review
  2. APNIC Policy
  3. Briefings to Incoming Ministers
  4. Chorus’ Role in the UFB and RBI
  5. Commerce Commission Fibre Demand-Side Study
  6. Communications (New Media) Bill
  7. Convergence (Telco/Broadcasting)
  8. Copyright
  9. Data Caps
  10. Digital Dividend
  11. DNSSEC
  12. Privacy
  13. Economic Studies of impact of Internet on the economy
  14. Electronic Identification Verification Bill
  15. ICANN’s new gTLD programme
  16. InTAC (Internet Technical Architecture Conference)
  17. International Mobile Roaming
  18. International Telecommunications Regulations
  19. IP Interconnection
  20. IPv4 exhaustion and IPv6 adoption
  21. NetHui
  22. Network Measurement Lab
  23. News Media Meets New Media Law Commission paper
  24. Policy Principles for future Internet submissions
  25. Southern Cross Cable
  26. Telecommunications Development Levy Determination
  27. TelstraClear and Vodafone Merger
  28. Trans Pacific Partnership
  29. Radio Spectrum 5-Year Outlook
  30. Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI)
  31. UBA, UCLL and UCLFS pricing determinations
As one can see, it is never boring!
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NetHui South

October 26th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

If you live in the South Island and are annoyed all the good conferences are in the North Island, well NetHui is having a NetHui South conference in Dunedin on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th November.

It’s only $40 registration, and ICT Minister Amy Adams is a keynote speaker. Sessions scheduled so far include:

  • Usable Security
  • Dunedin Digital Strategy
  •  Creative Commons
  • Rights-based approach to the Internet
  • Digital inclusion
  • Copyright & the Internet
  • Regulating bad behaviour online
  • Cybersecurity: at a tipping point?
  • Internet Governance
  • Vision 2020 with Clare Curran and Gareth Hughes
  • Internet-enabled opportunities for New Zealand
  •  Is the notice and consent privacy model dead?

I’m on one of the panels and involved with a couple of the workshops. Hope to see some mainlanders there.

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500,000 .nz registrations

September 11th, 2012 at 1:11 pm by David Farrar

The .nz Internet domain had its 500,000th registration today.  It shows how long I have been involved that I recall the party to celebrate 100,000 registrations. I also recall some people were projecting the number of registrations would level off at around 120,000.

What pushed the registrations over the limit was the launch of kiwi.nz today. Within 15 minutes there were over 1,000 registrations which is more than double the minimum target of 500 set for the sub-domain to be created.

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Have your say on .nz domain names

August 27th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The .nz Domain Name Commission Ltd is consulting on whether registrations should be allowed at the 2nd level. This means that people would be able to register (for example) farrar.nz rather than have to choose a third level name such as farrar.co.nz or farrar.net.nz etc. This would be the most significant policy change to .nz since it was created in 19870.

People can make formal submissions at the above link until 27 September. But there will also be five public meetings, at which you can come along to learn more about the proposal, and provide feedback. The South Island meetings were last week but the details for the other three are:

  • Wednesday 29 August, 5.00 – 6.30pm, Rydges Hotel, Auckland
  • Tuesday 4 September 5.00-6.30pm, James Cook Hotel, Wellington
  • Wednesday 5 September 5.00-6.30pm, at  www.R2.co.nz/20120905

Incidentally I’m a Director of the DNCL, and will be chairing those three meetings. The purpose of the meetings is not just to get feedback on whether people support or oppose the opening up of second level registrations, but also feedback on the specifics of the proposal such as the sunrise period, the conflicts policy etc.

If you would like to attend please RSVP to the DNC team at info@dnc.org.nz or phone            04 495 2110.

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kiwi.nz approved

August 25th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

InternetNZ has announced:

InternetNZ (Internet New Zealand Inc) is pleased to announce that it has approved the creation of a new second level domain in the .nz domain name space – .kiwi.nz. This expands the range of choice New Zealanders have in the domain name market and means that people will soon be able to register personalised domain names ending in .kiwi.nz.

The implementation of .kiwi.nz is being managed by InternetNZ’s subsidiary company the Domain Name Commission Ltd. Authorised .nz registrars will be able to take registrations for these names from 10am on Tuesday, 11 September 2012.

I might apply for blog.kiwi.nz :-)

The threshold set for kiwi.nz to be established is 500 registrations in the first month. So from 11 September to 11 October you will be able to pre-apply for a kiwi.nz name – if you want one. If more than 500 applications are received, then kiwi.nz will be created. It is effectively a market mechanism, to establish if there is suffucient demand.

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Nethui

July 20th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I was in the UK for a friend’s wedding during the inaugural Nethui in 2011, so the 2012 Nethui was the first one for me.

There were over 500 people in attendance, and I was really pleased that it was a preetty diverse group of people. It wasn’t just the usual suspects of the Internet techos and the policy wonks. There were teachers there interested in the Internet as an education tool. Farmers were there, librarians were there, game developers were there. Oh yeah, lawyers also :-)

Organizing a conference with over 60 sessions (plus a bar camp at the end) is a massive achievement, and kudos to especially Richard Wood, plus also all the INZ staff, for delivering a high quality event. InternetNZ subsidise it by a six figure sum so that registration for it is only $40.

Should also mention the Showgizmo smartphone app. I found it pretty useful. It had the schedule for the conference in it, so very easy to check what was on. You could select which sessions you wanted to attend, and it would show you just those, and/or give you calendar reminders for them. It also had the names and twitter feeds for all 500 delegates. Plus as a bonus if you scanned in someone’s ID tag on your smartphone, then it would add them to your favourites. Could do with some tweaking to interface with programmes like Outlook more, but overall a pretty good app for event organisers and attendees to use.

I was involved in a few sessions. I chaired a session on copyright and the Internet which had around 300 people attend. The video will be on the website for those are interested. Some good discussion, and the best point made was by chance the last. One of the lawyers there (Rochelle) said that a lot of problems would be solved if copyright law changed from focusing on copying to use. I thought that was a great idea. The Internet is a giant copying machine, as is each individual PC. Having laws against copying is like having laws against eating.

But what you can do is have laws on use of copyrighted material. If for example you copy a movie you purchase, just so you have it on a backup machine – then that is fine. But if you copy it and give it to someone – that is an infringement. And if you copy it and sell the copy to someone – that is a criminal offence. Focus on use, not copying.

There was also a good session on harmful speech on the Internet and the Law Commission’s proposals for a Communications Tribunal to deal with some of it, chaired excellently by Judge Harvey.  I retain some reservations about what may be proposed, but am waiting to see the details.

On the margins of Nethui, we saw the launch of the Fair Deal campaign about the TPP. I am a strong supporter of genuinely free trade agreements and also a strong supporter of the Fair Deal campaign. The campaign is calling on the NZ Government to maintain its current negotiating position of rejecting the elements of the US proposed intellectual property chapter, where they would require a change to our current IP laws or policies. I’ll blog more on the campaign as it goes. Feel free to check out the campaign website, and NBR has a story on the launch also.

I also took part in a panel on Open Government. Sadly there was little time for questions as there were two opening speakers and then seven panelists. My major point was that we should now look at amending the OIA to require pro-active release of certain Government information (such as Cabinet papers) after a certain period of time (say six months). This is not intended to change the criteria for release, but to recognise that people do not know what they don’t know, and hence what to ask for. An automatic pro-active release would open up Government considerably. I may draft a members’ bill to this end when I get the time and see if a backbench MP wants to submit it. I also see this as good for Government too, as knowing that all papers will automatically be released will ensure due care is taken in their drafting and approval.

Overall I thought it was a fabulous event, mainly due to the quality of the people there and their willingness to engage. Sarah Putt from Computerworld did not have a good initial impression, but Lance Wiggs’ response is one I endorse.

Talking of one of the keynote speakers, Pamela Jones Harbour, I would make this point. No she was not a Lawrence Lessig, but what she did do was not just deliver a keynote address, but actually stayed for the whole conference and participated in many of the sessions. Personally I thought it pretty cool that a former US Federal Trade Commissioner stayed on and participated the way she did. Also notable was that Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff didn’t just turn up for one session, but was there for at least two days, and engaging in multiple sessions. Nethui isn’t like other conference where it is all about the keynote speakers (even though I agree they are important), but it is about the engagement.

UPDATE: Almost forgot the highlight. As part of the digital divide panel, we heard from Emma whose family had benefited from the computers in homes programmes. Emma told us her life story including losing her kids for a while, drugs, crime but how computers in homes had made such a big difference to her and her kids, and how well her family are doing now. She was on the verge of tears speaking about her mistakes (and speaking to 500 strangers is daunting for most people), and most of the audience were emotionally captivated. She got the sole standing ovation of Nethui, and made things very real.

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Reducing piracy

February 1st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar has a good blog post on how you can make money from zero priced products. He notes:

Accepting some people won’t pay doesn’t mean they can’t make money. Instead, they need to come up with innovative answers to the question, “How do we give people what, when, and how they want our products at a zero price?”

The answers are there but it takes effort, attention, and good ideas. Let’s take an example from another industry, the software industry.

Zero cost software

How do you make money from software without charging anything for it? It’s not simple but several models exist. For example, there’s the upgrade or “freemium” model (charge for extra features or functionality); the services model (charge for allied services, e.g. design or support or tools); the donation or funded model (customer pays what they can or want to, before or after the software is developed); the loss-leader model (gain popularity to sell other software); the advertising model (money made from advertisers); etc.

How can this be applied? Just ask Justin Bieber how he got his break. Or, read this great article in The Guardian about Gorillaz as well as the one in GigaOM where author Neil Gaiman talks about how he is selling more books in countries where his books are pirated.

The traditional business model of Hollywood is based on the 1970s, not the 2010s. It will take time, but eventually they will change.

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dot kiwi

January 14th, 2012 at 10:19 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

People and businesses who find “.co.nz” insufficiently patriotic may be able to register websites that end with “.kiwi” from next year.

A group of ex-pat New Zealanders based in Vancouver has teamed up with Wellington lawyer Peter Dengate Thrush – a former chairman of worldwide internet governance body Icann – to found a new company, Dot Kiwi, which hopes to cater for those who want a more “Kiwi flavour” to their online identity. …

Dot Kiwi, which is Canadian-owned, would compete with New Zealand’s non-profit internet society, InternetNZ, which oversees “.nz” addresses and is funded by a compulsory levy on registrations.

Dengate Thrush said the administration of the “.kiwi” registry would be outsourced to Minds and Machines, a company he chairs that is based in Santa Monica in the United States.

InternetNZ president Frank March said all new and existing top-level domains competed with “.nz” and the society had not ruled out lodging its own application to run “.kiwi”.

“We’d certainly have a good case to put up, but there are very heavy costs involved in establishing a top-level domain and it is not a process we would undertake lightly. The arguments are quite finely balanced,” he said.

The .nz Domain Name Commission did some research last year through Colmar Brunton and around 11% of respondents (off memory) said that they would register in .kiwi in preference to .nz or .com, if they had the choice – so I think there is market demand for .kiwi. Whether or not the demand is high enough to cover the costs of a registry is another issue.

As a disclosure I’m on the working group which is looking at the pros and cons of InternetNZ applying for .kiwi. The WG’s role is not to decide, but to prepare consultation papers for discussion with the InternetNZ Council and members. As Frank March is quoted as saying, there are heavy costs involved, and many other issues.

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Discussion on Future:Digital

October 26th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

InternetNZ released earlier this month a discussion document called Future:Digital, talking about possible priorities for a future Government. It’s only nine pages so an easy read. There are five themes:

  1. The Internet drives economic growth
  2. A digitally inclusive society
  3. A vibrant, multi-cultural identity
  4. Protecting the environment for future generations
  5. A Government that “gets” the Internet

Waldo Kuipers from Microsoft talks about some of these themes in a blog post. He makes an interesting point:

In a paper looking back on 125 years of refrigeration (PDF), Dr Andrew Cleland explains, “In 1882 the first refrigerated meat left New Zealand for London, the pioneering use of a technology that was to transform the New Zealand economy. Animals were no longer grown for wool only, and the wealth of the nation developed rapidly. From 1882 until as recently as the early 1990s refrigerated food has returned at least 30% of New Zealand’s export income. Whilst much of the equipment has been imported, expertise in the application of refrigeration was developed in New Zealand.”

For New Zealand, the internet could be the best thing since refrigeration.

Reps from five of our political parties also debated Internet issues last week. If you missed it, you can view or listen to it at this page.

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Tune in tomorrow for the ICT debate

October 17th, 2011 at 3:01 pm by David Farrar

InternetNZ have arranged a debate between ICT spokespersons for four of the parliamentary political parties.

InternetNZ presents the election debate NetVision 2011, focused on New Zealand’s Digital Future. Major political parties will present and debate their visions across economic, social, cultural, environmental and government perspectives.

NetVision 2011 will be held at Wellington’s City Gallery on Tuesday 18 October from 7-9pm.

The debate will be streamed live on the Internet at www.r2.co.nz/20111018

A panel of Political Party spokespeople are participating in NetVision 2011 including Hon Steven Joyce (National), Clare Curran (Labour), Gareth Hughes (Green) and Peter McCaffrey (ACT). Confirmation from the Māori Party is awaited.

Sean Plunket is to MC the event, and journalists including Rob O’Neill and Sarah Putt will be on hand to quiz the politicians. They will also put questions posted on Twitter using the hashtag #Net11 to the politicians.

If you would like to be in the audience for the debate then email rsvp@internetnz.net.nz .

I’m in Auckland so will not be there in person, but will try and watch it online and follow the chat on Twitter. I encourage all those interested to tune in also, and ask questions that you want answers to.

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NetHui

June 16th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A final reminder about the NetHui 2011 from 29 June to 1 July.

The programme is here. I’m gutted I will be missing it as I will be overseas.

Three Ministers are participating – Deputy PM Bill English, ICT Minister Steven Joyce and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson. Also MPs David Cunliffe, Clare Curran and Gareth Hughes are on panel discussions.

Lawrence Lessig is the key speaker on the third day, which is MC’d by Sean Plunket. The panels are on digitial citizenship, the Internet and the law, Open Government and Access & Diversity.

The first two days have four work-stream running through them, with a huge diversity of sessions and topics.

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Review good, framing of it bad

October 14th, 2010 at 3:46 pm by David Farrar

Simon Power has announced a review of new media:

Justice Minister Simon Power has asked the Law Commission to review the adequacy of regulations around how the Internet interacts with the justice system.

“I’ve ordered this review because it’s imperative the law keeps pace with technology and that we have one set of rules for all news media,” Mr Power said.

I am a supporter of there being a review, and have in fact advocated for it. But I have to say the way the Minister has framed it is regrettable and rather confrontational.

First of all it may make a nice slogan, but the status quo doesn’t have one set of rules – broadcast media have very different rules to print media.

“At the moment we’ve got two tracks – conventional media and the so-called ‘new media’ – intersecting with the justice system, and it’s not sustainable.

“It’s a bit of a Wild West out there in cyberspace at the moment, because bloggers and online publishers are not subject to any form of regulation or professional or ethical standards.

This is another slogan which means little (and remember I do actually favour a review). First of all bloggers are subject to the law – as have been demonstrated of late. The notion of regulating bloggers (beyond the normal requirement to obey the law) or imposing some sort of “professional standards” on them is ridicolous fancy. Bloggers are simply citizens having a say. Simon Power makes it sound like he thinks you should have to apply for permission to have a voice online. Now that may not be Simon’s intent, but the way he has framed this issue is incredibly bad.

“Issues I’m concerned about include how trials can be prejudiced by information posted on websites and seen by jurors, real-time online streaming of court cases, breaches of court suppression orders, and re-publication of a libel.

Issues which I helped facilitate discussion of at last year’s R v the Internet seminar. They are good issues to discuss.

It will focus on whether either of the two existing industry watchdogs – the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Press Council – could provide a suitable vehicle for regulating unregulated forms of new media.

Yeah, and lets also give them the power to fine MPs if they say nasty things on their Facebook pages.

Having said that, it is worth noting the Press Council is self-regulation, not external regulation. One could discuss options such as allowing bloggers to voluntarily sign up to the Press Council, if they wish to do so as a way to enhance their reputation. But you then have issues around who covers costs of the Council – considering most blogs are non-commercial.

Mr Power says the public will have the opportunity to have their say when the commission releases an issues paper by December next year.

That is December 2011? Good – this should not be rushed.

As I said I am pleased the Law Commission is doing this review, as there are potentially even benefits for bloggers in it. But the way the Minister’s press statement has framed the issues is not good, and likely to rub a lot of people up the wrong way.

I will be advocating to the Law Commission, and InternetNZ, that they look to convene some workshops next year to discuss and define some of the issues.

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Get your macrons here

June 21st, 2010 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

This release from InternetNZ hasn’t had a lot of publicity:

InternetNZ (Internet New Zealand Inc), through subsidiary company the Domain Name Commission Ltd, advises .nz domain name holders that they are able to apply for macron versions of their domain names in a ‘sunrise’ application period that runs until 6 July 2010.

The addition of macrons to the .nz domain name space means that names can be registered using the characters ā, ē, ī, ō and ū, enabling, for instance, Te Reo Māori words to be correctly represented online.

Domain Name Commissioner Debbie Monahan says “The sunrise period gives existing name holders the exclusive right to apply to register macron versions of their names”.

“Name holders should take full advantage of the sunrise period before general registrations allowing the use of macrons start during Māori Language Week on 26 July 2010.”

At present Ngai Tahu is at http://www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz/.

Now that macrons are technically able to be used in the .nz domain, they could have their URL as http://www.ngāitahu.iwi.nz/

This is part of a global move towards allowing domain names that have non-Latin characters. The technology to do so is quite simple. The challenge has been working out the policies.

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Public ACTA this weekend

April 8th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A reminder to those interested, that the Public ACTA conference is on all day Sturday in Wellington at the Town Hall. ACTA is the treaty being negotiated that may require countries to implement policies to terminate Internet access of copyright infringers.

As I have previously blogged, the position of the NZ Govt on ACTA has generally been a good one – but we only know this because the secret draft texts have been leaked in Europe.

This is an opportunity to learn more about ACTA and help critique the proposals around Internet access.

The programme is here. We have three top international experts speaking, plus a panel of local pundits. The three international speakers are:

  • Professor Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. Michael has a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School and is an internationally syndicated columnist on technology law issues.
  • Kim Weatherall is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture. Kim teaches and researches in intellectual property law, with a particular interest in digital copyright, the relationship between international trade and intellectual property, and the systems for administration and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
  • Jonathon Penney is the Internet NZ Senior Research Fellow in CyberLaw at Victoria University and has a MSt from Oxford and a LLM from Columbia. Hailing from Canada, he has previously worked as a lawyer with the Justice Department and as a policy advisor at the federal level

If you wish to attend, you can register here. Looks to be 100 or so people attending at this stage. There is no charge to attend thanks to InternetNZ,

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Auckland ACTA

March 24th, 2010 at 10:53 am by David Farrar

If you are in Auckland and want to learn more about the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), there is a public briefing run by InternetNZ this afternoon.

The venue is the Coromandel Room, Level 1, Rendezvous Hotel, corner Vincent St and Mayoral Drive in Auckland’s CBD.

It commences at 2.00pm and will be finished by 4.00pm.

Speakers include

  • Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Jonathon Penney – the 2010 Cyberlaw Fellow at Victoria University of
    Wellington
  • Colin Jackson – a Wellington consultant and blogger at IT.gen.nz
  • Rick Shera – Lawyer, Lowndes Jordan
  • Jordan Carter – Policy Director, InternetNZ

If you click on my ACTA tag you’ll find more info about ACTA and why it is important to be vigilant about it.

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All about ACTA

March 12th, 2010 at 10:05 am by David Farrar

I’ve blogged in the past on ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Readers will gear a lot more of this in the next month, because the next meeting of the ACTA negotiators is in Wellington in April.

There are two major issues around ACTA. The first is that the negotiations are secret, and this has even upset the EU Parliament:

Wary of the lack of openness surrounding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), virtually representatives of the EU parliament have banded together, voting 663 to 13 in favour of passing a resolution that would require the EU Commission (who are the EU’s representative in ACTA negotiations), to share all information about ACTA talks, and to refuse to support any Internet disconnection penalty for online copyright infringement.

The resolution is very specific and blunt about the EU Parliament’s displeasure with the lack of transparency around EU ACTA negotiations, citing concerns over the “lack of a transparent process in the conduct of the ACTA negotiations”.

The second is the concern that ACTA may force countries that ratify it, to legislate for Internet disconnection for people accussed or found to have infringed copyright.

Now, all trade agreements are negotiated privately, but whether an agreement on copyright law should be seen as a trade agreement is a big issue – most IP agreements are not. Many countries would like to be more open about ACTA, but the rules of trade negotiations are that you need unanimous permission to agree to anything – including releasing information. So just one country, such as the US, can block the release of the draft text.

I’ve attended two meetings (in my role with InternetNZ) with officials from MFAT and MED, and have to say I am impressed with their willingness to engage, within the limits of what they can say. They have consistently said their position has been that ACTA should not require NZ to do anything beyond its current law (including the replacement S92A). However they can not tell us what has been proposed by other countries, and the concern is what pressure there may be to get an agreement in the final stages.

What the Government has done is asked for public submissions on “enforcement of intellectual property rights in the digital environment”. If you have concerns about ACTA, you should take a few minutes to make a submission and state what is and is not acceptable to you. Topics include:

  • Liability of ISPs for third party infringement
  • Safe Harbour provisions for ISPs and associated conditions
  • Identifying Infringing Users
  • TPMs (Technological Protection Measures)

Now despite the ACTA negotiations being secret, a draft text has been leaked. And, assuming it is accurate, it shows the New Zealand negotiators in a pretty favourable light – opposing some of the more undesirable aspects.

Nathan Torkington covers this in a blog post. His summary:

On the balance this bit isn’t too bad–New Zealand is a good voice for sanity in the negotiations.

I was pleased to see from the leaked draft, that the official position of the NZ negotiators, was very much in line with the informal indications they had given. It is ironic that we can only verify this, because someone leaked a draft.

Now as I said the next round of ACTA, and the round most likely to be discussing the Internet section, is in Wellington from 12 to 16 April. I am hoping the organisers will allow an opportunity for some sort of public forum or dialogue with negotiators, and this request has been made.

InternetNZ has organised a PublicACTA conference on Saturday 10 April, which will allow interested people to debate the issues, form positions, and report them to the main ACTA negotiations the following week.

And in a further announcement, the keynote speaker will be Professor Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa in Ontario. Michael is a real expert in this area, and a great advocate for balance in copyright laws.

I would recommend people attend, just for the chance to hear Michael. And if you wish to stay up to date with what is happening, I recommend this ACTA coalition site.

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The new Section 92A

February 25th, 2010 at 3:29 pm by David Farrar

Simon Power introduced this week the bill to amend and replace the S92A copyright law. It is called the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill.

As I blogged at the time, the Government’s Cabinet paper on the new law wasn’t bad, and a big improvement on the existing S92A. There are still provisions I don’t agree with, but the worst aspects were gone.

The draft bill is actually, in my opinion, a slight improvement on the Cabinet paper. The Cabinet paper had a number of potential fish-hooks in it – such as the possibility one could get multiple infringement notices, for alleged infringing that occurred at the same time. InternetNZ detailed to the Minister a number of these fish-hooks, and it is pleasing to see that officials (and presumably the Minister) took account of these in drafting the bill.

Pat Pilcher in the Herald comments:

Under the new bill, offenders will receive three warnings. First a detection notice, which is then followed by a warning notice should the internet subscriber be accused of infringing copyright again.

An enforcement notice is finally issued that could see third time infringers being fined up to $15,000 or have their internet disconnected for up to six months.

Giving credit where credit is due, the Bill does incorporate time frames within which subsequent infringement notices cannot be sent, giving accused infringers time to amend their copyright infringing ways.

As I said previously, this is a quite important thing. Generally there is a gap of three weeks  from the first “strike” until any alleged infringing can count for a second strike and so on.

The new bill also allows accused for copyright infringers who feel they have been unjustly accused to apply to have their case heard by a Copyright Tribunal at no cost.

This is definitely a good thing as the scope for wrongful accusations is potentially massive. Take, for example, the number kiwi broadband users using of Wi-Fi broadband routers.

Yes, that is good that you do not have to pay to defend yourself. Also your identity is protected, unless you are found liable.

ISPs are also going to be burdened with the costs under the new bill. Matching internet subscribers to IP addresses supplied by copyright owners, and keeping track of the three strike process is, at best, going to be a deeply complicated undertaking and likely a costly nightmare as well.

While some of these costs will be met by copyright holders paying to lodge infringement notices, most ISPs will be left with little choice but to pass costs onto their subscribers.

The level of fee which ISPs can charge is likely to be set by regulaton. It is a concern that the fee will probably only cover their variable costs of each notice, and not the very large one off capital costs of reconfiguring their systems to record such info.

While copyright owners can ask for repeat infringers to be disconnected, they must do so through the courts and disconnections will last for up to six months.

This is good in that courts are geared up to hear both sides of any infringement argument and will bring some much needed legal rigour where it was lacking in the previous bill.

I don’t think termination is an appropriate penalty, plus it will largely be ineffective. But having said that, I welcome the fact it can only be done by a court after due process.

Whilst the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill represents a step in the right direction (especially when compared to the original bill), it still incorporates some serious flaws.

Worse still, it could prove ineffectual as most serious infringers are will utilise encrypted virtual private networks to avoid detection by copyright holders.

I think there will be a fairly big drop in copyright infringing downloads (and that is not a bad thing), resulting mainly from people receiving an alleged infringement notice. Overseas cases have indicated over 50% of people stop downloading such material if they receive such a notification.

Those that carry on regardless tend to be very dedicated, and will probably just move to networks which hide their IP addresses.

I hope all parties in the House will support the bill at first reading, as it is a big improvement on the status quo. Once it hits select committee, I will encourage people to make submissions to improve the bill further.

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R v Internet Part II

December 4th, 2009 at 2:10 pm by David Farrar

Before I add my comments, you can also see some summaries at Tech Liberty NZ blog (worth subscribing to also).

Also the Twitter feed is extensive. Over 250 tweets. Is one of the best Twitter coverages I have seen as we had nine or ten people et the seminar twittering and several people not there also commenting and asking questions.

The morning session was mainly focused on contempt of court, and the afternoon on name suppression issues.

Warren Young, the Deputy President of the Law Commission, gave an overview of the recommendations from their recent report on suppressing names and evidence. He said the threshold for getting name suppression shoudl be “extreme hardship” not just hardship as at present.

Most usefully he clarified that the recommendation relating to ISPs removing or blocking suppressed material is not meant to imply an obligation on ISPs to block overseas hosted material, just to remove material hosted on their own networks.

I asked a question about whom an ISP should be obliged to act on a complaint from – my preference is it should only be if the Crown Law Office or Police inform an ISP of suppressed material.

Judge Harvey spoke about the challenges of the Internet and supressed material, but did not think the horse had bolted. He made the case that one doesn’t have to achieve perfect suppression – it is often mainly aimed at making it hard for jurors to access material not relevant to the trial.

The final panel was myself, Sinead Boucher (Group Online Editor for Fairfax) and Ursula Cheer from Cant Uni Law School. Sinead and I talked about the issues we face from a practical point of view in trying to complay with the law, and Ursula touched on how different technologies come in and out of vogue with different challenges.

Now I can’t avoid mentioning a huge fuckup I did. It was one of the rare times I was speechless as I realised what I had done. I had a few slides to go with my talk, and I was talking about the recent high profile entertainer case, and was detailing the different sites you could find out on.

The point I was making was it was not just blogs, but the name was on Yahoo Answers, MSN NZ, was findable through Google search and even on the entertainer’s facebook page. I found it amusing that the entertainer himself could be liable for breaking his own name suppression.

rvi

I displayed the above page to show the comment someone had made on the page. I pointed out to the room packed full of lawyers from the Courts, Ministry of Justice, Crown Law, Law Commission etc (plus the Judge who originally dealt with the case) how careful I had been to draw green boxes over seven parts of the page to stop my showing the page, itself being a breach of the suppression order.

I went on to say how I then realised the URL gave the name away also, so had to go back and green that out also, and then also realised two of my open tabs displayed the name, and edited the graphic for a third time to green them out.

Just as I was about to move on, someone in the audience then pointed out that sadly I had overlooked the Google search box in the Google toolbar, and to my horror there indeed was the name of the entertainer (now behind a yellow-brown box). I was mortified as the audience started pissing themselves with laughter.

I mean how much worse can it be – you are boasting about how careful you have been to not break the name suppression order, and bang the name is up on the screen in front of everyone – and especially in front of that audience.

In the general discussion at the end, there was some discussion around the role of the media committee of the Courts. The TVNZ lawyer said the committee had one rep from print media and one from broadcast media, and many in the room thought an additional rep from Internet media could be a useful thing. Of course that is a decision for the judiciary, but it was agreed InternetNZ would write to the Chair to discuss the concept.

Feedback from participants was incredibly positive, especially from many of the lawyers. A common comment was how useful it was not just having lawyers there discussing things academically, but also having media and Internet practitioners with practical knowledge. There was a strong feeling that there should be more opportunities to get the various industries together on issues of mutual interest.

Kudos to InternetNZ President Frank March who MC’d the day well to finish ahead of time, and to the InternetNZ staff who primarily organised it. And most of all to the participants – had many great contributions not just from the speakers, but from the floor.

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Suppression Orders and the Internet

November 17th, 2009 at 7:29 am by David Farrar

The Law Commission published yesterday a report and recommendations to Government on suppression order. One chapter deals with the Internet, which I will talk about in more detail. First the major recommendations:

  • starting point for considering publication of evidence and names should be a presumption of open justice
  • suppression should only be used in exceptional cases where there were compelling reasons
  • grounds on which suppression may be granted need to be clarified and tightened
  • development of a national register of suppression orders should be advanced as a matter of high priority.

These all seem good and sensible moves to me. The use of suppression orders has been growing, and they should be the exception, not the rule. Having tighter criteria is a good step in the right direction.

I am especially pleased to see the recommendation for a register of suppression orders. It is very difficult to sometimes know what has or has not been suppressed. And this is a complaint not just from me, but from many in the media.

With regards to the Internet, they recommend:

Where an Internet service provider or content host becomes aware that they are carrying or hosting information that they know is in breach of a suppression order, it should be an offence for them to fail to remove the information or to fail to block access to it as soon as reasonably practicable.

The wording here is somewhat vague.  Under the best case scenario this is not greatly different from the status quo. ISPs already have an implicit obligation to remove material if it is in breach of a suppression order.

But what has not been defined is is what they mean by carrying information, and what they mean by “become aware”. It is one thing to require an ISP to remove material hosted by that ISP. It is quite another to require them to try and block information from other sources.  That would be highly undesirable, plus it won’t work. ISPs should be responsible (once notified) of material on their own networks, but not be ordered to block overseas sites such as Wikileaks etc.

What constitutes bringing the information to the attention of an ISP will need clarification also. I have no problem with an ISP having to remove material upon official request by the Solicitor-General and Crown Law. But just having a member of the public allege hosted material breaches a suppression order should not be enough. The ISP is not competent to decide what is or is not a breach of a suppression order – hence it should be an official agency that has to make the request.

So overall the main recommendations look to be a move in the right direction. The recommendation relating to the Internet is too vague to be able to say for sure at this stage.

In a fit of good timing, there is a seminar on the 3rd of December where some of these issues can be discussed and debated.  The seminar, titled R v The Internet, is hosted by InternetNZ, the Law Commission and the Ministry of Justice.

The seminar is at Te Papa, and has an impressive line up of speakers, including:

Hon Christopher Finlayson, Attorney-General
David Collins QC, Solicitor- General
Tony Smith, Dean, VUW Law School
Steven Price, Barrister & author of Media Minefield
Robert Lithgow QC
Brent Edwards, Media Committee, EPMU
Warren Young, Deputy President, Law Commission
Judge David Harvey
Sinead Bouchier, Group Online Editor, Fairfax
Ursula Cheer, Associate Professor of Law, University of Canterbury

I’m also taking part in one of the panels. I think it will be a fascinating day. It is intended for legal, media, and Internet professionals, and anyone can register to attend for $100 + GST. You can also apply for a discounted rate.

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Fibre to the Home proposal finalised

September 16th, 2009 at 2:28 pm by David Farrar

I’m very very happy with today’s announcement from Steven Joyce:

Communications and Information Technology Minister Hon Steven Joyce today released the details of the government’s $1.5 billion ultra-fast broadband investment initiative. …

Key highlights of the proposal include:

  • An open, transparent partner selection process, which will be initiated in the next month.

  • Government investment directed to an open access, wholesale-only, passive fibre network infrastructure.

  • A new Crown-owned investment company (“Crown Fibre Holdings”), which will be operational by October, to carry out the government’s partner selection process and manage the government’s investment in fibre networks.

  • Crown Fibre Holdings and each partner establishing a commercial vehicle, a “Local Fibre Company” (LFC), to deploy fibre network infrastructure and provide access to dark fibre products and, optionally, certain active wholesale Layer 2 services.

  • Provision for national and regionally-focused proposals, as well as consortium and proposals aggregating any combination of LFC regions.

  • Independence, equivalence and transparency requirements for LFCs.

  • Expansion to 33 candidate coverage areas based on the largest urban areas (by population in 2021).

What is really good is the commitment to open access to dark fibre, and the regional approach to the issue. The Government has held firm to most of their draft proposal, with the main change being an increase in the number of coverage areas to 33.

Computerworld reports on positive reaction:

“This ushers in the biggest and most fundamental change to telecommunications in New Zealand since the privatisation of Telecom 20 years ago,” TUANZ CEO Ernie Newman said in reaction to the news.

“The paper builds very constructively on the work done previously,” Newman says. “It takes into account most of the key issues raised in submissions, and sets a timetable with milestones. It is an excellent blueprint on which to build.” …

InternetNZ also welcomed the plan, saying it is “delighted” with today’s announcement of a regionally-based approach to investment.

“This is a world-leading programme that can be expected to deliver the infrastructure New Zealand needs,” spokesperson Jordan Carter says.

“Steven Joyce and the Government have put in place a framework that over time can deliver a widespread fibre rollout across urban New Zealand.”

Those unsure about the benefits of ultra-fast broadband, might want to read the guest post from Rod Drury earlier this week.

Chris Keall (and Kelly Gregor) at NBR cover the proposal in detail. Keall highlights a new focus:

In the proposal document released today, the minister also flags that “The capacity and reliability of New Zealand’s international data connectivity will become increasingly important as LFCs’ [local fibre companies'] networks are deployed over the course of the UFB Initiative.”

The Commerce Commission recently identified slow international data as a roadblock to better domestic broadband performance, with testings showing that overseas pages take twice as long to load as those hosted locally – even with our current copper-dominated networks.

International bandwidth and data costs are often cited as a big issue also.

In a fit of good timing, Juha Saarinen has an article in Computeworld on dark fibre, and how you basically can not get it from Telecom or TelstraClear. Have a look at this price comparison and weep:

James Watts, who runs Palmerston North-based ISP Inspire Net, says the reason dark fibre is attractive to his customers is because they can “do whatever the hell they want with it.” Inspire currently charges $595 and $995 for intra-town dark fibre pair leases, depending on contract terms, and double that for inter-town unlit circuits.

To light the circuits, Watts says his company sells Gigabit Ethernet transceivers for $140 each.

A similar 1Gbit/s circuit from Telecom apparently costs $7000 a month, plus installation charges.It’s $69k a year according to Telecom’s pricing book.

Finally a focus on the issue of fibre providers being discouraged from also operating retail telecommunication services, both here and in Australia. Steven Joyce said in a Q&A:

Will Telecom have to structurally separate its network business to participate?

Any such decisions are up to Telecom.  The Government has made it clear that it will only invest money into fibre companies that are not controlled by shareholders who also operate retail telecommunication businesses.  The Government is also clear that potential partners who already own fibre assets can table options that involve those fibre assets being vended into any new fibre companies.

Preventing vertically integrated monopolies is crucial. This basically means Telecom can not be a majority shareholder in any regional fibre company unless they structurally separate (ie sell off Chorus). They can have a minority stake however.

In Australia, the Government has done similiar:

The government could also deny Telstra access to new spectrum for advanced wireless broadband unless the telco sells off its cable network and 50 per cent stake in Foxtel (25 per cent owned by News Corporation, owner of The Australian)

If you want to be part of the future, you need to be separated.

For those who think separation is not a big issue, think what it would be like if Air New Zealand owned the airports and could set access terms for other airlines. Or if Ford owned the roads and set the rules for what other cars could drive on them, and for how much.

So as I said, very pleased with the announcements today, and now working my way through the details.

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DIA and the Child Porn Filter

July 17th, 2009 at 8:44 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Internet service providers will soon begin blocking access to hundreds of websites that are on a secret blacklist compiled by the Department of Internal Affairs, but critics say the system lacks transparency.

Some ISPs – those that choose to use the service.

There are two sorts of views about the desirability of a voluntary filtering scheme to block child pron sites. Both have some validity.

One view is that any sort of filtering sets a bad precedent. That if you accept a filter for child porn sites, then someone may propose a filter for copyright infringing sites, or sites that advocate crime, or sites that are defamatory of someone. The concern is that this is the thin end of the wedge. The argument is you don’t block sites to stop people breaking the law, you prosecute them afterwards for doing so.

The other view is that if ISPs do not act to voluntarily block access to child porn sites, then it will give ammunition to those who want compulsory filtering such as in Australia, and that such compulsory filters may be far wider than just child pornography. It is better for most ISPs to have input into a voluntary filtering scheme, than have a compulsory one implemented on them.

The department this week announced its new Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System, which it said would help fight child sex abuse. The $150,000 software will be provided free of charge to ISPs in a couple of months and will reroute all site requests to Government-owned servers. The software, called Whitebox, compares users’ site requests with a list of banned links. If a match is found, the request is denied. It will not cover email, file sharing or borderline material.

The best info on the proposed scheme comes from Thomas Beagle who has an FAQ on it.

Critics say the system has been introduced by stealth and lacks accountability. The department will not disclose the 7000 objectionable websites for fear “inevitably some people would visit them in the interim”, effectively facilitating further offending and making the department party to the further exploitation of children.

Through my work with InternetNZ, I got briefed on the proposed scheme some months ago.To be honest I did not realise until recently that info on the proposed scheme wasn’t in the public domain. As DIA had been talking to various ISPs, I just assumed it wasn’t a big secret. I actually suggested the DIA be invited to make a presentation to the InternetNZ AGM, which is a public forum, and they seemed relaxed at that. I suspect it has been “secret” more by neglect rather than design.

InternetNZ has had a healthy constructive relationship with DIA for some years. Around four years ago we supplied a technical expert to test the UK filtering scheme, and to check for stuff like false positives – ie does the filter block sites that are not hosting child pornography.

In terms of listing the websites that will be blocked, I have some sympathy for the notion that this is undesirable as it is like publishing a guide to find all the child porn sites. But I also understand that many people could be nervous with a regime of “Just trust the DIA”. A suggestion I made was that maybe one could have the Office of the Auditor-General empowered to audit the filter list every six months or so, to certify it has not been expanded beyond its mandate. Mind you I feel sorry for the poor staffer who would have to check some of the sites out to do such verificiation.

Internal Affairs censorship compliance head Steve O’Brien said the blacklist would be personally reviewed by staff each month and would be restricted to paedophilic content only.

This was a key area I quizzed the DIA staffer on. I am very much oppossed to filters that work on keywords, assumptions etc as these inevitable have false positives – they block sites they should not. A manually reviewed list is the only way to go.

Also essential (to me) is that the filter will be directed towards child porn sites only, and not all sites with “objectionable” content. While most prosecutions in NZ for “objectionable” content relate to child porn, the definition of objectionable is wider. It includes (for example) sex involving urine or faeces. It is somewhat strange that it is not actually illegal to perform or receive a golden shower, but it is illegal to view an imagine of a golden shower!

Now just so no one gets the wrong idea, I find the idea of sex involving wees or poos as bloody disgusting, and am not a champion for such practises. Yuck. But they are not like child porn, in that child porn has actual real victims – the abused kids. So to my mind it is important a filer targets child porn only, and not the wider definition of all objectionable or illegal material. DIA agree, which is good. I imagine the fear of some people is that the definition could be widened in future. For my part I don’t detect any desire on behalf of DIA to grow it in future. They have a pretty nasty job to do, and generally do it pretty well. That is not to say I agree with everything they do.

Filtering systems in Australia, Denmark and Britain have been accused of serious flaws, with unexplained blacklistings of straight and gay pornography, Wikipedia articles and small businesses.

Yep errors do get made. However there is a system to get a decision reviewed if you get told a site is blocked, and you think it should not be.

Mr Beagle said he favoured providing optional clean feeds for users, but believed Governments would be tempted to expand the blacklist in reaction to events.

I am against any filter being compulsory for ISPs. And I agree user level decisions are best. But personally I am pretty relaxed about individual ISPs making a decision about whether or not they would use the DIA filter – so long as they do so transparently and inform customers they have done so. Some ISPs may even use it as a marketing tool that they provide a slightly “safer” environment, while other ISPs may choose not to take part, and use the fact they are unfiltered as a marketing tool.

What would I do if my ISP, choose to use the DIA filter? So long as it was restricted to child porn sites only, and so long as there was some sort of external review (such as the Office of the Auditor-General), I would stay with that ISP.

Some ISPs could even choose to provide it as an option for customers to select as a preference, but I understand that require a bit more than just a line of code.

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