ICT minister explores fairer deal for '80-percenters'

Amy Adams asks officials to look at ways that ICT vendors can provide better information to consumers

ICT Minister Amy Adams has asked government officials to look at ways of encouraging suppliers to disclose in clearer language the terms of provision of ICT products and services for the domestic end-user.

“It’s a piece of work I’ve asked officials to get involved with around product disclosure,” she told a breakfast meeting organised by the Institute of IT Professionals in Wellington recently. This phrasing has touched off speculation that strict advertising standards for ICT products and services, particularly telecommunications rates and charges, are contemplated.

Consulted yesterday for an update, Adams’s press secretary, Nathan Beaumont, said no new information is yet available on plans. “However, an announcement with further details could be made in the next few weeks,” he said.

As digital media become a more “normal” way for people to interact with one another and with government agencies and commerce, “we’re moving out of the phase where the people using it are pretty clued-up in this space and understand the lingo and how it all works,” the minister told the meeting.

A growing proportion of computers and telecommunications connections, she says, are in the hands of people not technically informed.

These are the people Computerworld has christened “the 80-percenters” because they constitute an estimated 80 percent of PC users.

Such people need “very clear messaging around the products and packages and pricing and options [on offer] and what they mean,” says Adams. “I can tell you it’s pretty hard often to figure out what you’re getting, how much it costs , how it works, and how you compare [competitive offerings]; and I think we need to do a bit of work to make that a lot easier.

“Talk of peak speeds and throttling and such terms [used] around the industry means nothing to most people,” she said. “I think that while we’re making ICT more normalised we should make sure that what the industry is talking about is easily understandable to the wider community.”

A related need is for assurance of “cybersecurity”, Adams told the meeting. “People have to be comfortable that their data and use of the network is secure.” However, she added, this is not just important for the 80-percent, but for the other 20, including government agencies. Assurance is needed “not just around personal data, but that our government’s IP [intellectual property], our country’s IP, is secure.”

In a wide-ranging address, Adams touched on the progress of the Ultra-Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband rollouts. Responding to allegations of “speed wobbles” with RBI, discussed at the NetHui conference, Adams put herself forward as the lead minister to go to with any queries or misgivings – though she may have to pass some on to other agencies or to the private-sector providers.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there are teething issues” with UFB and RBI deployments, the minister said; “but actually I’m very happy with how they’re progressing”

There is a good deal of overseas interest in NZ’s public-private partnership approach to deploying broadband, as opposed to Australia’s government-driven strategy Adams says, citing conversations she had on a recent visit to Korea.

On government procurement, Adams acknowledges that government agencies have in the past tended to present tightly defined requests for proposal. “We’ve said ‘we want one of these; go and build it.’” There should be more emphasis on “building a relationship with our suppliers”, so government could signal a broad need and the industry put forward the specific solutions, she says.

NZRise’s Daniel Spector raised the well-trodden question of a fair go for local industry in government work. Adams acknowledged that local companies may suffer some disadvantage in bidding owing to their smaller size and relative lack of resources to enter the bidding process for a large contract. But she stoutly resisted any suggestion that local industry should be explicitly favoured.

“What we do absolutely consider – as appropriate for the particular RFP – is that NZ companies have a lot of advantages by being here. They far better understand our businesses, the cultural environment and the needs we have. [Secondly] they’re often far easier to deal with because they’re here with us. So we absolutely recognise the advantages that working with a NZ company bring us,” she said.

“What we don’t say is: all other things being equal, we want to give it to the Kiwi company. When all other things are equal often we will want to deal with the NZ company; but we do not [use] a rating system that gives preferential treatment to NZ companies - because as well as supporting the NZ sector, we have to be very careful about how we spend New Zealand’s money.”