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Hot News in IT This Week

Paul Brislen, Editor. 15 April 2016, 3:58 pm

First Industry-accredited tech degrees announced

The first six computing degrees to successfully achieve robust accreditation and endorsement by the IT industry were announced today, with a mix of institutions from across New Zealand being recognised. 

The comprehensive Degree Accreditation programme, run by the Institute of IT Professionals NZ (IITP) and aligned with similar accreditations in many other countries around the world, recognises computing and IT degrees that provide the best pathway to industry in New Zealand and abroad. 

At the invitation of tertiary institutions, the accreditation process involves a comprehensive review of everything to do with a computing degree programme, including a multi-day campus visit by a panel of academic and industry experts.

The first six New Zealand accredited programmes include:

  • AUT University: Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences
  • Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT): Bachelor of Computing Systems
  • Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT): Bachelor of Information and Communication Technologies
  • Massey University: Bachelor of Information Sciences (majors in Computer Science, Information Technology and Software Engineering)
  • Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT): Bachelor of Information Technology
  • Whitireia New Zealand: Bachelor of Information Technology

The number of accredited programmes is expected to grow, with several other institutions currently investigating accreditation including the University of Auckland and Ara (formerly CPIT).

Brislen on Tech

Here's a roundup of tech stories from TechBlog and Newsline Editor Paul Brislen:

Unbundling fibre

The government has released some changes to its policy framework for the next version of the Telecommunications Act.

To recap: In 1990 Telecom was privatised and sold off with no major constraints on its business (in fact, it was deliberately sold as a monopoly and so acted as one for the better part of the next decade).  By 2001 the Fletcher Inquiry had given the incoming Labour government the fortitude to tackle the problem head on and the Telecommunications Act was born, with a new watchdog role (that of Telecommunications Commissioner) that would decide the big issues of the day.

The Commissioner fumbled the first decision badly (should the local loop be unbundled) and by the mid-2000s it took a second go at writing the rules to really beef things up. Telecom was required to operationally separate and so began several years of "we're working really as hard as we can towards that goal, Minister" conversations that saw very little change delivered to customers.

By 2010 the incoming National government had had enough and so we saw a new tack taken. Telecom could be part of the shiny new Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) project but only if it was actually separated - a network arm and a retail arm.

After much angst, Telecom agreed to do so and the new Telco Act was introduced (the third in a decade) although that was itself somewhat muddied by the inclusion of a "but you won't be regulated for a decade" clause which was bitterly contested. Eventually the government backed down and the ten-year regulatory holiday was removed from the legislation.

(Incidentally, I once spoke to a nice chap from BT in the UK who told me they'd asked for a regulatory holiday and were told in no uncertain terms they'd be lucky to get a regulatory weekend off.)

Sadly, that also wasn't the end of the debate. Chorus discovered that the Telecommunications Act included a previously unseen clause that said its copper network would be regulated on a cost-plus basis (that is, work out the costs and add a margin) as opposed to the old retail minus model (get the average retail price and take off a margin) and that Chorus had better batten down the hatches. This caused Chorus to freak out and run crying to the government for succour, and sadly the government agreed that yes, Chorus was being treated unfairly (by a law the same government had introduced, by the way) and that we the people of New Zealand would be more than happy to give Chorus $600 million more than previously agreed in order to build the fibre network.

As part of the fallout from that debacle, the government decided to bring forward a review of the Telco Act (the one they'd introduced in 2010) and now here we are in 2016 about to embark on yet another overhaul of the legislation.

With me so far?

The new policy guidelines says Chorus is a monopoly and will be regulated as one after the UFB is completed in 2019 and that a building blocks approach will be taken.

I don't know about you but my Spidey sense is already tingling. Building blocks sounds very much like we'll work out how much each individual component could cost under some wacky regulatory wet dream that involves the waterbed theory of economics (don't ask), a scorched node policy (again, don't ask) and a benchmarking exercise that will include Uzbekistan but excluded Guatemala for perfectly sound reasons.

This will then be applied to each and every component of a modern network with the net result that we'll all have to pay more for our broadband.

I may be slightly exaggerating.

We'll have to see whether the Telecommunications Commissioner's role is retained (hint: it really should be) and whether it should be beefed up (again, it really should be) or quite what the new Act will say about the Telecommunications Carriers Forum (the TCF) which has evolved from being a working-group forum for technical solutions into a CEO forum where the companies' bosses all sit around without any independent oversight and … well, presumably discuss rationally and calmly how best to make 111 emergency call routing work more efficiently.

I can totally see that happening.

It also says the UFB can be unbundled, which means the retail ISPs will be able to put their own equipment in the exchanges or cabinets in order to offer their own services over the top of Chorus's network (and of course, over the top of the other Local Fibre Companies' networks). This is intriguing but having seen the way Chorus dealt with copper loop unbundling (make it as uneconomic as possible) this may never actually be an issue.

But for now at least, the review is underway and while the devil is as ever in the detail, we might finally get a regulatory regime that will give both investors the certainty they need and customers the pricing and service they need to make New Zealand an ICT global power house.

NBR - Chorus will be regulated like a utility from 2020

InternetNZ - Telco regulation announcements set a sensible direction on first read

ZDNet - NZ govt releases policy framework for Telco Act review

TUANZ - TUANZ cautiously welcomes Government's direction on the future of communications regulation


FBI and the iPhone

It reads like the script for a bad Hollywood thriller.

The hard working FBI, unable to find a legal way to crack a multinational corporation's device, resorts to hiring a bunch of kids in their mom's basement to break in.

They'll cast an English theatre actor as the bad guy (Jonny Ives) and the plucky young band of hackers will be played by the former cast of Saved by the Bell. Mitch Pileggi will, of course, play the crusty but ultimately fair and decent, FBI bureau chief.

Sadly, what probably happened is the FBI paid a bunch of hackers to crack the iPhone that Apple refused to help with. Apple, as you know, refused to help because if you do it for this one, you have to do it for all the law enforcement requests. No no, said the FBI, we won't do that. We just want you to do this one. The other phones we can talk about later.

The Guardian paper suggests the hackers are part of a group that finds security vulnerabilities and then reports them to government agencies but not to the software provider so as to keep the vulnerability live for as long as possible for exploitation purposes.

That a government condones that kind of behaviour is quite astonishing.

But the whole thing has backfired because now app makers are falling over themselves to provide customers with the most secure, uncrackable services they can think up, which just made the FBI's job that much harder.

The Guardian - FBI paid professional hackers to gain access to San Bernardino iPhone - report

Washington Post - FBI paid professional hackers one-time fee to crack San Bernardino iPhone


World Internet Project

Meanwhile the World Internet Project finds more people are worried about privacy intrusions than ever before, but not from government agencies, rather from corporations.

The survey, carried out every two years by AUT University, reveals that 45% of respondents are concerned companies and corporations are violating their privacy online while only 33% held the same concerns about government.

Fully 45% of respondents said there is no such thing as privacy online.

That's astounding when you consider that almost every respondent uses the internet on a regular basis and that we're being encouraged to not only bank online but to conduct as much business as possible via the net, including filing tax returns, other government agency interactions and all the rest of our modern lives.

One thing the World Internet Project did not address is the continued abuse of the term "world" by users of the World Wide Web, in particular those American corporations who insist on spamming us with advertising for products that are available worldwide* but only to those people who live in the United States.

Why yes, I did just get an email telling me how cool the new Kindle is, even though the makers of the Kindle won't let me buy one.

TechBlog - Corporate spying, not government, the bigger fear

NBR - Corporates seen as bigger privacy threat than government - World Internet Project New Zealand report



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