Congratulations to TNVZ 7 for the production of the TVNZ Debate on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Policy and Issues which was broadcast the other night. Not only was it a great debate but it was also a showcase of convergence (one of the buzz words of the night) with the broadcast going out to both TVNZ 7 viewers and also to a live audience on the web (www.debate.net.nz).
The main players were of course the politicians, of which all the main parties took part: David Cunliffe from Labour, Maurice Williamson from National, Metiria Turei from the Greens and Rodney Hide from ACT. There was a txt-in poll of who’s ICT policies people liked the most: ACT won the poll but I wouldn’t take that as a read on the election: the fact that they didn’t show up with a spokesperson on ICT policy says a lot and Rodney Hide did a great job of distilling ICT policy down to generic policy talking points (like investment and property rights). I admit I was impressed with the way he handled himself but was out of his depth in a lot of the conversation. Metiria Turei was pushing a fairly innocuous Greens policy – but at least they have a policy and some of her concerns around the digital divide (bringing ICT to the masses) and accessibility (particularly for the disabled) were really on the button. Obviously the big players were Labour and National: Labour trying to push their existing policies and National trying to push an agenda built mostly around their broadband strategy – more on that in a minute.
Some of the issues, such as copyright, privacy and cyber security were great to talk about and I thought everyone handled them well – it’s important that there is policy and enforcement criteria of cyber crime however it’s also important to understand that the internet is just not able to be regulated beyond that – the technology is too fast moving. It was disappointing that the digital divide debate happened after the TV audience turned off (the last hour of the debate was webcast only) – some of Labour’s initiatives have been really beneficial to the wider community and I hope the next government sticks with similar policies. Topics such as convergence and open source were also briefly discussed but didn’t really go anywhere – I would have liked some discussion around how TVNZ could play a role in driving convergence but I don’t think it’s a hot-button issue for voters.
Probably the key issue that was raised was broadband proliferation. This is a very important issue for an organisation like Xero – our distribution model is the internet and so broadband uptake globally is vital. While the other parties talked around the issue Maurice Williamson was able to get National’s policy right front and center. The basics of it are delivering FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Home) through the capital funding of infrastructure (1.5 billion of tax payers money with private capital investment on top of that), aiming to target 75% of all NZ homes in the first 5 years. FTTH is about building capacity into the basic infrastructure of the country (turning broadband infrastructure into a utility) – as opposed to having a mixture of wireless, cable and copper wire for internet use, the aim is to install high capacity fixed line broadband to every home and business in the country, with competition happening at a services level (as opposed to just on speed and data caps). It’s a bold plan but even though FTTH is great (and the concept looks good on billboards) I’m worried that not enough attention is being paid to how important this infrastructure is to our standing in a global market. It’s not about consumer uptake – it doesn’t matter if you see stealth cat on YouTube at 2mbps, 20mbps or 200mbps. The key here is for business: we need to be stimulating ICT growth and innovation – it’s the cornerstone of our knowledge economy. In fact, if refrigeration was the killer app for electricity, growing the knowledge economy and enabling businesses to reach a global market is the killer app for broadband. (Right at the end there was a brief mention of the southern cross cable – it’s all well and good having high capacity internal infrastructure but if you’ve still got one point of failure to the rest of the world then there’s almost no point. No matter who wins the election I hope this gets addressed immediately.)
In the end it was a fun debate and great to be in the audience and look behind the curtain at these kinds of things. I’m definitely not declaring a winner – in the end I’d probably say both Labour and National took even honours (but Maurice Williamson wins for quote of the night: “I’d rather be a rich prick than a prize prick” – I’ll let you look that one up for context :-))
Congrats again to TVNZ 7 – looking forward to the next one.
You can watch the debate here (best viewed with broadband ;-))