NZ First quiet on IT, telecomms policy fronts

New Zealand First appears to have little to say on information technology and telecommunications policy matters.

One sector in which New Zealand First will not be seeking to dictate coalition policy is IT and telecommunications--largely because it doesn’t appear to have any.

Shortly before the election, the Internet Society approached the five major parties with a list of questions on their IT, Internet and telecomms policies. New Zealand First was the only one not to reply.

In August, party leader Winston Peters bailed out of the TUANZ parties debate on telecommunications policy at short notice. It was at that debate where Alliance leader Jim Anderton presented some of his party’s more controversial policies, including that of the government setting some of Telecom’s consumer prices.

The proposal is repeated in the Alliance’s response to the ISOCNZ survey, but would now seem to have been marginalised off the agenda by the party’s poor showing in the polls.

Of the current contenders for the Treasury benches both National and Labour, either still a possible senior partner for NZ First, are committed to competition in the Internet sector--but Labour is prepared to go a litle bit further to make sure it happens. While the government is intent on sailing the same hands-off course of recent years, Labour says it will review the Commerce Act in order to keep the telecommunications market competitive.

Both parties, and Act, support open competition in all aspects of telecommunications and are also in broad agreement that existing censorship regulations do not need to be changed to take in specific technologies such as the Internet.

ISOCNZ notes that the responses “come as the Internet services market is disrupted by Telecom Xtra’s campaign to increase market share of Internet service provision.” It asked the parties how they would act if “there was a situation of monopoly or duopoly control which created restrictions to Internet access for sections of the population?”

National says it would use the existing provisions of the Commerce Act, including investigation and prosecution in the case of “predatory pricing”.

Labour, however, promises to review the act and other regulations “to ensure they contribute to an open and fair competitive environment”.

Problems negotiating acceptable interconnection agreements have hampered an open, competitive telecommunications industry, says Labour. It “reserves the right to intervene to help develop a framework for such agreements in order to achieve competition which will provide consumers with the lowest real prices and highest possible quality service.”

On Internet access for schools, Labour says it will promote a national strategy “to move information technology equipment into classrooms, in an effort to address the inequalities that have begun to emerge. This approach will be supplemented by technology grants to low-decile schools.”

In addition, Labour “will require school building regulations and refurbishments to include installation of high-capacity LAN-configured ducted cabling, where practical, in order to avoid unnecessary expenditure at a later date.”

National says the establishment of computer facilities in schools appears to be an issue of people rather than money, and says “the major determinant appears to be access to a visionary principal or teacher. Government is working to increase the numbers of such people through its professional development.”

On access issues, Labour says it would introduce a five-year strategic plan to co-ordinate applications of communications technologies, develop the role of the Information Technology Ministerial Advisory Group and “investigate the possibility of introducing tenders for the provision of service to particular groups or areas not adequately serviced, and also examine what financial responsibility the state should take as part of its social obligation.”

National has no policy position on the question of universal access, and believes it is “too early in the development of the Internet in New Zealand for this issue to be addressed.”

In the area of censorship and the Internet, the two parties have various ideas, but anything resembling Trevor Rogers’ Technology and Crimes Reform Bill would seem to have ridden into the sunset along with its author.

* The full text of replies to the survey can be found at ISOCNZ’s home page, http://www.isocnz.org.nz/isocnz.

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