Party political promises for the ICT industry

The election takes place on November 26, so what are the political parties offering in terms of ICT policy?

ICT policies are generally not vote-catchers but National put a stake in the ground in the last election by announcing $1.5 billion for a broadband network. So it should come as no surprise this time around that two pages of its three-page policy on broadband and communications is taken up with trumpeting how the National government has implemented the promise.

Having established the Ultra Fast Broadband and the Rural Broadband Intiatives, the 2011 policy document proposes a “five point action plan to realise the economic, social and productivity benefits of much faster broadband”. Exactly what the plan is, and how much it will cost, is not included in the policy document.

ICT Minister Steven Joyce told Computerworld that the Ministry of Economic Development will play a coordinating role in enacting the five-point plan but specific agencies will have responsibility for their own projects. For example the Network for Learning initiative, which has a budget of up to $400 million over ten years, is part of National's 'Vote Education' policy.

Labour, by contrast, released an extensive ICT policy in October. Having taken the axe to Telecom’s exclusive rights to the copper network and imposed operational separation when previously in government, it must have been galling to see National pick up the momentum in the last election and trump Labour with an eye watering billion-dollar promise.

Labour MP Clare Curran attacked the policy area with gusto in her first term in parliament, and while landing very few blows on Joyce she has been assiduous in following every twist and turn of the UFB and RBI process. The Labour party policy reflects this.

Labour would look to create a single regulator of telecommunications and broadcasting, and possibly create a new Ministry of Communications and IT. It may also appoint a chief technical advisor, a position modelled on the current chief science officer. It will lift the number of R&D interns to 1000 nationwide, and spend $2.7 million a year on increasing funding to the Computer Clubhouse and Computers in Homes programmes.

Labour proposes to review copyright law with the aim of introducing a new Copyright Bill within 18 months and to look into the “viability of a small copyright levy on internet access, to develop the digital platform for accessing Kiwi content”.

Also hot on copyright issues is the Green Party. In a blog on the TUANZ website, ICT spokesperson Gareth Hughes claimed that the Greens ‘get’ the internet - when the party launched its copyright policy, including legislation to protect satire, it did so on Reddit.

Green’s ICT policy includes promoting the use of free and open-source software in governnent, creating community IT hubs and researching the possibility of council-owned free wireless internet. While the Green Party appears to embrace ICT, there is a nod to its environmental roots, with the policy promise that it will “monitor the health of workers for known harms of IT.”

NZ First, in its broadcasting and communications policy document, advocates the abolition of the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2001, as the party believes that “both the privacy and rights of New Zealanders are being eroded by this piece of legislation”.

The party will also investigate Kiwishare. Telco watchers will recall the National government lifted foreign ownership restrictions on Telecom, and they now only apply to Chorus. As for the obligation to provide ‘free’ local calling to remote areas, this is now part of the TSO (Telecommunications Service Obligation) and will be split, between Chorus and Telecom.

The Maori Party have released a six-point policy document which includes extending the role of Nga Pu Waea, the Maori working group set up to provide input into the UFB and RBI. It has also suggested that those who eschew snail mail from government departments in favour of email correspondence will receive a subsidy on their internet connection bill.

Mana has no specific ICT policy, although when Computerworld asked candidate John Minto for the party’s views he says it supports increasing the reach of the internet, particularly to rural areas. He says this will be necessary to ensure video-conferencing to remote schools in order to implement the Mana policy of Te Reo as a compulsory subject. There are not enough Maori language teachers and some school children would have to receive lessons via video link.

United Future, in its policy, supports regulation in the mobile market, and taking “necessary steps to safeguard children from harmful internet material.” This would include working with the Internet Safety Group and the industry to ensure “filtering software and other appropriate safety measures” are adopted. United also wants to ban telemarketers from calling between 6pm and 8am.

The ACT party has deliberately not released an ICT policy. “ACT believes that the government should not intervene in the ICT industry,” candidate Peter McCaffrey told Computerworld. “It is not a role of the government and so we have no policy on ICT. New Zealand needs less regulation, less bureaucracy and a stronger economy and this will allow the ICT sector to flourish for all New Zealanders.”

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