InternetNZ president on TPP, TUANZ and Paul Reynolds' view of regulation

Part two of Q and A with MED official and InternetNZ president Frank March

Frank March is both a Ministry of Economic Development official and president of InternetNZ. In part two of this Q and A with Stephen Bell he talks about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whether InternetNZ will move into the telco user space and he considers the departing Telecom CEO's view of regulation.

Are there problems that have been hanging around for a lot of your career and haven’t been solved?

You know, one of the very early lessons I had in computing was … the difference between a really good programmer and a bad programmer in terms of efficiency is three, even four orders of magnitude. The major problem is finding the really creative people and letting them have their head, while stopping really silly ideas from flourishing and taking over.

Every project that has gone badly wrong as far as I can see is where something that was a fairly straightforward idea, easily realisable within the technology of the day, got added to and added to, to the point where the project was so overladen with other people’s great ideas that the whole thing fell into a morass. It happens time and time again. It’ll never go away, it’s part of the human process; but that has been a feature of my career from the DSIR days right through till now, I think.

Do you think the benefits of Trans-Pacific Partnership outweigh its risks?

Clearly the government thinks that and as a public servant I go along with the government on that. That’s not to say I don’t have some concern with parts of it, just as everybody does. I am involved in providing advice to MFAT negotiators in the telecommunications and e-commerce chapters of the TPP.

I’m happy to be involved and I think we’re making some progress; concerns have been widely expressed around intellectual-property issues. We need to find ways of ensuring privacy guarantees for cross-border services. These sorts of things are areas where we need to be alert and concerned. The interest InternetNZ is taking, mainly on intellectual-property issues is welcome. We need people to be alert to these issues and safeguarding general citizens’ interest in them. InternetNZ involvement is extremely welcome from my personal point of view and, I think from government’s point of view.

Could InternetNZ move into some of the telecoms user-service space that seems to have been vacated by a shrinking TUANZ?

There has been some discussion on our mailing lists about this. If TUANZ has a diminishing role, it’s not because of a lack of interest; it’s because of a lack of resources. That goes back to its membership. If there is less resource available to TUANZ for doing this work, it’s reasonable to interpret it as meaning the membership of TUANZ sees less need for it.

[Given that], there probably isn’t a need for somebody like InternetNZ to intervene. I know there are other points of view, but the reason InternetNZ is a successful organisation is that it is quite focused on its outcomes and objects; those [concern] the internet. It’s not a user organisation and it doesn’t pretend to be one.

It represents the interests of its members, who are diverse, but they are not represented in the sense that the membership itself has a stake in the outcomes of InternetNZ’s work; It has an interest in those outcomes in the sense of a general benefit to the internet and the internet community.

InternetNZ works for the internet and the community around the internet, but not for individual users of the internet. That’s quite an important distinction, I think. We have discussed in Council whether we need to take another look at this role. Every year we have a planning meeting, where we look at our objects and whether we need to change our direction. We have considered whether we have a role as a user-representative organisation, and so far, we’ve concluded we don’t.

What was your reaction to Paul Reynolds’s view, expressed in our previous Q&A, that InternetNZ and other bodies are contributing to an unnecessary amount of regulation in the telecoms space?

The reaction when that was distributed on the Council list was a wry chuckle all around. You’d think that somebody with Paul Reynolds’s experience, knowledge, stature and history in the telecommunications area would be well aware that by world standards, New Zealand’s regulatory regime is light – by comparison, for example, with the UK, where he comes from.

I can only conclude he was having something of a mental burnout when he spoke off the cuff on that issue, because what he said frankly doesn’t make any sense. He is critical of the fact that we’ve got MED and the Commerce Commission. Everywhere in the world there’s a separation between the people who make the policy and the people who oversee it and enforce it.

All sensible governments have such a basic separation of responsibilities. New Zealand in having the single Telecommunications Commissioner within the Commerce Commission is simply [applying] good practice.

And then to bring the Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum and InternetNZ into the same discussion is just absurd. Telecom’s been a member of the TCF since its inception and has been [represented] on the board all that time. And as far as InternetNZ is concerned, you would not expect Paul Reynolds to reveal his ignorance of the way the internet works.

He talked about InternetNZ clipping the ticket of every user of the internet. If anyone’s clipping the ticket, it’s Telecom; they’re the ones providing the connectivity. What InternetNZ does is provide a world-class registry service for .nz. That is the limit of InternetNZ’s extraction of any resource from the internet.

If he’s concerned about the success InternetNZ has had in getting some of its policies adopted by government, as opposed to the lack of success Telecom has had, then all I can say is it’s the difference between an organisation that does not have an axe to grind for itself, but is thinking of the community more generally, against one that’s concerned about returns to its shareholders. And the government can see that as well as anybody else.

Is InternetNZ going to put money into securing the .kiwi top-level domain for New Zealand?

InternetNZ has decided not to proceed with an application for .kiwi. We’ve had a long discussion among our membership and they have no doubt been talking with the public. We did a lot of soul-searching and in the end, after what was a non-rancorous but extremely far-reaching and deeply searching debate, Council made the decision.

Dot-kiwi will be applied for; there is a .kiwi Ltd, a company that announced early on that it would apply for .kiwi. InternetNZ would have been in competition had we decided to go ahead, but that didn’t really colour our thinking. It’s possible .kiwi Ltd won’t be the only applicant, because it is a global brand.

Whether InternetNZ puts money into [an effort to secure .kiwi] has not been discussed. We’ve not been invited to and I don’t expect an invitation; I suppose we might [get one], but at the moment, we’re not planning to put money into it.

Did anything of note come up at the ICANN meeting in Costa Rica, or was it just a routine meeting?

I am of the opinion that no meetings of ICANN are routine any more; there are always issues de jour that are critically important at the time.

The major issue is the way applications for the new top-level domains should be processed. As NZ’s representative on the governmental advisory committee, I’m looking at how we deal with the prospect of up to 2000 applications needing to be looked at to ensure the NZ government doesn’t have a concern or interest in any of them; or if it does, why and whether we should raise an objection with ICANN to a particular string. That’s a personal issue.

On what grounds would the government raise an objection?

I find it very hard to think of a reason why we would; it could be that, deliberately or inadvertently someone will pick up on a sensitive Maori or Pacifica concept or word. It’s hard to say. The process initially is one of identifying it and warning the applicant that there might be a problem. There are processes that cut in after that, but that’s the initial step.

But one of the major issues that ICANN and the ICANN community are facing is that it’s physically impossible to process, say 2000 applications at one time. So if there are more than 500 applications they’re planning to select batches of 500 or so and process them sequentially. That raises enormous issues around selecting the first batch of 500 to be processed. What happens if someone misses out on the first batch and their business opportunity is compromised as a result?

That occupied a lot of the discussion in the public sessions at Costa Rica. I don’t know that there’s an easy answer to it. I can imagine if we’d decided to apply for .kiwi and we’d been put in the second or third batch, that would have been of enormous concern.

What are the issues of concern?

One that concerns me is the built-in assumption that there has to be an asymmetry in download and upload. I’m a passionate believer in the power of the periphery on the internet. If you persist with the ADSL model of judging your broadband connectivity, or if you in any way choke off the upload speed, you’re building in an assumption about the use of the internet, which I think is false. You need to encourage people to put stuff on the internet as much as to take it off. There’s no reason to suppose people running home businesses and so on won’t make good use of that upload capacity - so it needs to be symmetric.

But as the commercial models develop, these issues will be resolved; there’s nothing in the technology that requires an asymmetry. So when the need for it disappears, it will disappear to.

FRANK MARCH – SNAPSHOT

Favourite mobile device: “an IHC phone” Do you mean HTC? “Yes, that’s it. I’m not wedded to it; it just works in more places overseas than alternatives.”

Car: 1996 Subaru

Most important technology: Over all, history - writing. And as logical successor to that, the web. Not printing, because that had gatekeepers (publishers). The web restored democracy to communication and record-keeping.

Most admired person: Carl Sagan.

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