Internet Society quizzes politicians on Net agendas

Both the National and Labour parties are committed to competition in the Internet sector--but Labour is prepared to go a litle bit further to make sure it happens.

Both the National and Labour parties are committed to competition in the Internet sector--but Labour is prepared to go a litle bit further to make sure it happens. Such are the results of a policy survey sent to the major political parties by the Internet Society.

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. New Zealand First and the Alliance did not respond to the survey.

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, which sets out the circumstances under which government intervenes in markets, including investigation and prosecution in the case of “predatory pricing”.

The Labour Party, however, promises to review the the Commerce 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.”

In response to a question 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 unecessary expenditure at a later date.”

National says the establishment of computer facilties in schools appears to be an issue of people rather than money, and says "a recent survey showed that the number of students per computer in a school was not correlated to the school’s socio-economic status. 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."

In the area of censorship and the Internet, the National Party says it has no policy concerning reframing of existing censorship measures to cover the Internet.

“The Films, Videos and Publication Classification Act has been used to prosecute people distributing objectionable material via bulletin boards. It could presumably be used for this purpose on the Internet also, provided the publisher was in New Zealand.”

It points out that the move to create an Internet service provider code of practice, which will address ways of dealing with objectionable material on the Internet, was started as a result of a letter written by Information Technology Minister Maurice Williamson.

Labour also believes no change in censorship legislation is necessary at this stage, but says the situation should continue to be monitored by ISPs and appropriate government agencies:

“We accept that parents and teachers should be able to restrict access to information that they, in their role as parent and teacher, feel may be harmful to the children and students in their care and would encourage parents and teachers to be aware of the screening technologies that are becoming available.

“Some form of labelling and rating of sites will become increasingly important as Internet use grows and becomes a more mainstream medium. The nature of such a system, and the balance between voluntary codes of conduct and state guidelines, would have to be worked through with service providors and others involved in the industry, including consumers.”

In the area of cryptography regulation, Labour has no policy. National notes there are no restrictions on the use of cyrptography in New Zealand, though New Zealand is a participant in the Wassenaar arrangement which requires exporters of strong cryptography to seek export licences from the government.

In reply to questions on issues of access, Labour says it would introduce a five-year Strategic Plan to co-ordinate applications of communications technologies, and would develop the role of the Information Technology Ministerial Advisory Group.

“Labour believes it is vital for all New Zealand communities to have the opportunity to access information services. We believe providers of a communications infrastructure, such as telephone lines within a locality, should be expected under a Universal Service Obligation to offer access to the infrastructure to every home within the locality at a fair and affordable rate. As the telecommunications industry adopts new technolgies for its infrastructure, these technologies should also be introduced into the scope of the USO.

“We will 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.”

The National Party 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.”

Both parties are in favour of public information being available on the Internet.

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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