NZ Green Party
ICT discussion paper – faster internet, productive jobs and more!

The Green Party has launched a package of proposed initiatives to help grow the ICT sector.

Government investment in a second internet cable system, supported by smarter government procurement policies, will lead a step-change in the ICT economy, growing exports and creating green jobs.

The ICT sector is a key component of our vision for a smart green economy: The potential of the sector is huge, the jobs are well paid, and continued growth won’t come at the cost of our environment.

Please use our feedback form to send in your views on the ideas contained in the package. Submissions close March 1, 2013.

20 thoughts on “ICT discussion paper – faster internet, productive jobs and more!

  1. Simply stellar.

    The only comment I’d make is that it’s not necessary to take cheap political shots on page 2: the shots add no value to the paper, and make it appear altogether less honest than the paper otherwise would be.

    But yay that someone has finally realised the value of the knowledge economy to NZ and is willing to shout about it.

    I, of course, am not unbiased in holding this opinion…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0 (+7)

  2. However, I do believe the Green Party underestimate the difficulty in getting a new undersea cable funded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 (+2)

  3. I like the general concepts, but I’m not convinced about enforcing the use of Open Source Software (page 7) where possible. By all means make sure that government is properly assessing Open Source Software for getting their jobs done instead of just running an entrenched policy based on current staff skills and preferences, but besides that, if it’s worth using then I think market forces would usually prevail in this case.

    I think open standards, on the other hand, are extremely important. They’re what ensures the data will remain available in the future. I’ve been running mostly OSS at home on desktops and laptops for 11-12 years now, and at other places (eg. uni some time ago) for longer. It’s the height of frustration every time I get sent an official document which I can, at best, open using an application of dubious effectiveness and legality thanks to various proprietary obfuscation and legal techniques.

    Today, Parliament TV is only available in either Windows Media or Apple Quicktime streaming formats, both of which have had their tech reverse engineered to some extent, but which also mean that people’s ability to use that service relies on terms and limitations dictated to us by Microsoft or Apple instead of our own government’s terms. If you’re not prepared to sell your soul to them, then screw you. National Radio’s decision to provide parallel streams in an open Ogg Vorbis format instead of just MP3, however, is awesome.

    I hope that behind the scenes, the parliament video feed is being archived in a more useful format. Use of open documented formats for record storage within government is also important, to ensure that many years from now it’ll remain possible to extract the records if they’re needed. How many government departments have a giant EDRMS including electronic records from 15-20 years ago in a formats like Office 97, or worse?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0 (+6)

  4. Hmmm, let’s look at the three initiatives.

    We can include ICT in our apprenticeship scheme and encourage IT companies to develop their own apprenticeship/internship schemes, investing in staff development at home rather than buying it from overseas.

    An excellent concept that, while it has a few obstacles to address could be a safe bet.
    The challenge is to arrive at standards which are common not just throughout New Zealand, but on a broader international scale. The NZ Computer Society considered the establishment of such a scheme a few years ago; however, to make it work required establishment of an organisation with as much power and credibility as the Legal and Accounting professions enjoy.

    We can help the ICT sector to overcome the distance from markets by supporting promising local developers to visit key ICT clusters overseas and gain experience there.

    This is a bit of a misnomer. If we’re talking about development companies needing support to get to their markets, it doesn’t strike me that there is much of a barrier there, and NZTE already has mechanisms for such support. If, however, were talking about helping individuals, this strikes me as about the same as WINZ paying for people to fly to Australia to get jobs – an unproductive investment. Sorry, I see this as a waste of taxpayers’ money

    Finally, we need to amend the Patents Bill to prevent the patenting of software, which is chilling software development overseas

    OUCH. You want innovation and investment without the ability to protect the return on that investment. WHy on earth would we do that? Can you imagine Xero getting into the black, just to have their software pirated by a bunch of well funded silicone valley garagetechs who go on to grab the lions’ share of the USA market by claiming to be local providers? Would you design a new vehicle engine that delivered 100 miles per litre of alcohol and happily give it away without ensuring royalties to the investors who funded you?
    Please – don’t go this route, it will lead to our most innovative leaving NZ (still) to live in a place where they can protect their inventions.

    As for the second link across the pacific – some very credible, and very rich, entrepeneurs tried to put together a consortium to do exactly what you are proposing. They had more than enough wealth between them to cornerstone the investment, as well as total credibilty in the market tey were proposing to enter. They failed to raise the required funds because the owner of the existing link has sufficient available capacity to create a price war that would be disasterous for the new competitor; their current (depreciated) investment would have such a significant advantage over a new entrant as to ensure they couldn’t make money while the established competitor could.
    PLUS, is it really appropriate for the government to go into competition with its local merchants? My own view is that if a private venture is prepared torisk capital to make money, no local government should set up in competition with them as they enjoy a potential financial advantage (recycling taxes/rates back to the business) that favours the nationalisatio of ALL industry IF government owned enterprise is what a country believes it should have. Mind you, to establish that I think you would need a clear platform of nationalisation in front of voters prior to an election, rather than the ‘behind your back’ approach that was taken to the purchase of Kiwi Rail and Air New Zealand – both of which shouldnot, in my opinion, have had public funds put into them.

    Finally, our local suppliers have to be fully competitive with the international market. This means that the NZ Government should be able to purchase its software from the most cost and service effective provider available, and that our domestic suppliers shoul be those suppliers – otherwise they are doomed to failure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2 (+2)

  5. Dave Stringer

    I would be very surprised if Xero had any software patents, or if they did whether they would pass any scrutiny. The concept of computerising accounting systems is very old and there are other SaaS contenders out there, including open source ones.

    This does not mean Xero’s code is “unprotected”. Like all software code it will be protected by copyright. This is also the protection that covers nearly 100% of all software and allows developers to licence their software to 3rd parties.

    One of the biggest threats to the likes of Xero will be that someone does have a dubious patent or 10 somewhere and would use that to try and destroy or at least tax their business.

    That’s what the IT sector, with near unanimity, is seeking to avoid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 (+2)

  6. We don’t need faster Internet. I had VDSL2 (40Mbps down and 9Mbps up in speed tests) and there was rarely a site that could deliver that sort of performance. We don’t need fibre to the home either – It’s also a waste of money. What we need is to use standard ADSL1 and ADSL2+ technology to deliver ‘normal’ broadband to more places. ie: xDSL available on every phoneline. This is the same technology as still widely deployed across the ditch today. The grass is NOT greener on the other side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  7. “What we need is to use standard ADSL1 and ADSL2+ technology to deliver ‘normal’ broadband to more places. ie: xDSL available on every phoneline. This is the same technology as still widely deployed across the ditch today. The grass is NOT greener on the other side.”

    I couldn’t comment in a qualified way, but irrespective of the ADSL that many metropolitan Australians presently use, Australia still rates itself as well behind most of the developed world. Consequently the Aussie Federal Government is actively in the process of pushing out the National Broadband Network over the next 3 years, which aims to supply all Australians with either optic fibre up to 1GB/s (93%) or fixed wireless and satellite technologies at up to 12MB/s (7%).

    It’s still a question as to whether New Zealand can afford it and whether it’s worth it to attempt the same, but if NZ doesn’t plan similarly for most of its population have more than just ADSL2+ then the grass certainly will be greener on the other side (again) fairly soon, and this will continue to affect NZ business and homes in the future when the rest of the world has again evolved towards technologies that are optimised for wider and faster data transfer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 (+4)

  8. Hi @dave:

    OUCH. You want innovation and investment without the ability to protect the return on that investment. Why on earth would we do that? Can you imagine Xero getting into the black, just to have their software pirated by a bunch of well funded silicone valley garagetechs who go on to grab the lions’ share of the USA market by claiming to be local providers?

    The flip-side to this question is to ask what might happen if Xero were put out of business, either now or several years ago, thanks to a giant corporate competitor that felt threatened deciding to drag it through the mud and exhaust Xero with legal fees by attacking it with a portfolio of baseless and trivial patents which Xero had easily invented in parallel on its own.

    It’s been a while since I’ve followed the software patent debate and others may present it better, but there is a big debate, largely because the technology sector moves so quickly compared with the patent process that there have been ongoing issues where important patents have been granted that probably shouldn’t have been. Those applying for patents aren’t always honest, patent officials aren’t necessarily good at keeping up with everything happening in the sector, and this has led to lawsuits, general FUD, and arguably stifling of innovation where small people and small businesses can’t use trivial or obvious ideas based on existing new technology without risking the possibility that random giant corporate competitors will start threatening to sue them or shut them down with an expensive, even if it’s baseless. Much of this has occurred in the USA, which has had software patents for some time, but also keep in mind that if we allow software patents in NZ then we’ll effectively be allowing US companies to attempt to enforce their own trivial patents here.

    Big corporates (IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, etc) are generally fine, because they tend to have massive portfolios of defensive trivial software patents which they’ll only pull out of the cupboard to wipe out a competitor if that competitor tries to threaten them with their own library of trivial software patents. The losers are the small businesses and individuals who can’t realistically defend themselves without great expense, even though small businesses and individuals tend to be where the large amounts of IT innovation takes place at first, because there’s still such a low barrier to entry.

    Opinions may vary, but I think there are some pretty good arguments about why software patents are bad. Maybe New Zealand could allow software patents under a radically different regime than what’s been implemented elsewhere, but my own opinion is that software patents largely haven’t worked or been at all beneficial in places where they’re allowed, except to help entrench the giant slow corporations and stifle the more innovative smaller businesses from getting traction without much uncertainty and risk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0 (+5)

  9. Have the Green Party reversed their policy on Public Private Partnerships?

    Less than a month ago the Green Party were putting out press releases telling us PPPs for infrastructure were a recipe for disaster.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 (+2)

  10. enforcing the use of Open Source Software (page 7) where possible

    The Microsoft Monopoly breaks as soon as MS Office is not required to write a document for government.

    MS Office is NOT required to write a decent document. Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice do a more than adequate job. What they can’t do perfectly is import the MS versions which aren’t compatible with each other anyway. Shades of the problems that WordPerfect encountered with the MS monopoly masters.

    The truth is that MS cannot afford to allow any “foreign” software to work perfectly with its products. When the competition gets close the goalposts get moved. That’s always been the way it works.

    “The code’s not done till Lotus won’t run”.

    It only CHANGES when someone makes it change. They’ve created large commercial incentives to ensure that nobody is tempted, and their control over mail servers and other services creates a deeply embedded infrastructure that COULD be changed and SHOULD be changed, because the cost is in the millions of dollars that we ship overseas to no real purpose… because we could have done these things cheaper and often better, with less expensive software and support. RedHat and Ubuntu both are credible support providers. Much can be done, but a great degree of willpower is required to push back against the expenditures and habits here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 (0)

  11. The second cable proposal is, as other have described, a non-starter for commercial reasons.

    If it were feasible commercially, those with deeper pockets would have commenced competing already.

    It won’t work principally because;

    1. demand – the commercial model for competition doesn’t stack up as international data and backhaul rates continue to come down without a corresponding demand uplift

    2. supply – there is already excess capacity in the SCC (and will be for the foreseeable future as the electronics at either end get smarter)

    A far better model to ensure that the SCC doesn’t throttle growth (if it could be determined that the price set for international interconnect were too high – already within the remit of MoBIE and ComCom) is to regulate, forcing a tariff on Telecom for holding the monopoly.

    Another method for opening up BB capacity would be to setup a consortium (funded by ISPs) to create local internet nodes, thereby reducing the international traffic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

  12. Hi @bjchip.

    “The Microsoft Monopoly breaks as soon as MS Office is not required to write a document for government.” … “It only CHANGES when someone makes it change. They’ve created large commercial incentives to ensure that nobody is tempted…”

    But it breaks if and when requirements for open formats are enforced, does it not?

    I’d expect that requirements for open formats would skew the preferences towards open source alternatives, but if so they should be chosen on merit to meet requirements compared with alternatives, and not because of a directive from above to use one option over the other. Proprietary providers can often meet all the standard requirements for things like security, reliable record keeping, open formats and many others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 (0)

  13. Whereas it is undoubtably true that the SCC has available unused capacity, it remains the perception (and perhaps the reality) that the bandwidth charges for international connectivity are higher than might be desirable, and are higher than what is possible.

    The rates came down considerably once Pacific Fibre got serious, and it was this that put the final nails into the coffin of the new link. So it has been illustrated beyond reasonable doubt that the rates were excessive. Unless there is another supplier with the ability to compete mercilessly then we will never know if we are still being overcharged.

    There is nothing wrong is what SCC are doing: using their monopolistic position to get great returns out an investment. Well done them. But it does not serve our best interest. It does not best serve the nations interest. Someone needs to take a bigger picture view.

    The government part-funding a second link has much in common with the government looking to get free trade agreements with other countries: both are about reducing tariffs to trade for NZ businesses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 (-1)

  14. Another method for opening up BB capacity would be to setup a consortium (funded by ISPs) to create local internet nodes, thereby reducing the international traffic.

    Just what does this mean?

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  15. dbuckley

    I’m suggesting funding an additional link at vast cost is unnecessary when the Govt. has and does successfully use regulation to get the same result (i.e. reduced prices).

    What I mean by getting local nodes setup:

    Creating a local geographic Web Caching service – essentially data centres, probably housed in exchanges, that locally push regularly accessed international WWW data/info/SaaS applications etc. – rather that your internet connection pulling this commonly used information across the international pipe.

    Studies have suggested that communal web caching can reduce bandwidth requirements by up to 35% (given that most people access the same stuff) and network latency.

    FWIW, ISPs do this now to a degree but it tends to be a point solution as there is no centralised consortium setup that could gain efficiencies of scale.

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  16. But a second cable is good anyway, as it is more than just money, it’s diversity and redundancy.

    Caching is currently as you note, ISP specific. As is provision of distributed content servers.

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  17. The current cable is already diverse and redundant. It’s not a single piece of string that could be cut – actually, I guess technically it could be but it would be a hell of a job.

    But I get your point.

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  18. photonz1, this is not a proposed PPP but a for-profit joint venture, meaning all partners are equal. PPPs typically are not relationships of equals. In most PPPs, the public usually have to take on all the risk of a new venture while the private sector take all the rewards.

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  19. One ship dragging anchor in the wrong place would do the job on any of the cables. The design is nice but it begs backup.

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  20. If there is any lesson I have learned from my years in this industry, it is that there is never “too much” memory or bandwidth. Now 640k of RAM is not enough for anything much less everything…

    “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
    - Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

    “I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processings is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
    - The editor in charge of business books for Prentice-Hall, 1957

    “But what…is it good for?”
    - Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip

    “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
    - Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of DEC

    … and so it goes. We can manage our vulnerabilities and weaknesses by playing to our strengths, but we have to create some strengths besides the farming sector to play to.

    That AS WELL as caching and bringing one of Google’s redundant nodes here… would serve us well in the future. Provided we built the wind farms and renewable power generation to ensure that it continues to run.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/saul_griffith_on_kites_as_the_future_of_renewable_energy.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

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