Brislen on Tech
The digital divide
I listed the digital divide as the single biggest issue facing the new CTO, as something that needed to be addressed immediately.
That didn't work out so well but the issue remains high on the list of things that need fixing in New Zealand, albeit on a list with some good company. Teaching and health issues are up there, along with public transport, decent employment laws, better privacy and data management legislation and a bunch of other things to boot.
But it's definitely up there on the list.
I'm not just talking about the urban-rural divide, although that's the most obvious one. We are developing a two-tier network and, as Hamish MacEwan says so well in his piece below, there is a cost to that decision.
How much would it cost the country to extend fibre out to the vast bulk of the population. And as a corollary, how much would it cost us not to do that?
These are questions that have plagued the New Zealand telco market for nearly a decade now, and while we're still making leaps and bounds and getting ahead of our nearest neighbours (cough cough Australia cough) we could do so much more.
So let's have a look at the urban-rural divide, but let's also have a look at the others. Rich-poor, male-female, young-old. These divides pose as much of a threat to the economy and to our society because if we're building a network for relatively rich white guys, it's not really going to deliver for the country as a whole.
Techblog - Fibre: Finish the Job
Techblog - Examining digital exclusion
Computerworld - InternetNZ, 20/20 Trust push for universal access
Access is king
Some would say the other side of the digital divide discussion (or indeed, the core of the digital divide issue) is one of access. Access to content, access to media, access to communications, access to data.
In New Zealand the access to content debate tends to end up being one about access to digital movies and TV. It should be about books because I can't get over how expensive books are here but I've burned that bridge long ago and tend to just buy books on my Kindle these days which makes me sad because I enjoy bookshops but there it is.
Content is TV and content is movies and the content debate has been focused on equitable access to such content and a large part of that debate has been about Sky TV.
Sky has dominated New Zealand's paid TV scene for most of its existence but in recent years has come under quite the onslaught, first from the world of piracy and more lately from actual paid competition. First came Quickflix, then Netflix, and today we have others like Amazon Prime and Lightbox and even Sky itself has its own digital distribution platform. Even TVNZ and TV3 have launched their own on-demand apps and deliver content online often before they've screened it on terrestrial TV.
Most of these have focused on comedy and drama, on reality TV or re-runs and on documentaries. Sport has long been left out of the loop and that's because Sky has done a very good job of sewing up not only the rights to screen the games but, for New Zealand content, the people needed to produce the content. Camera operators, sound desk technicians, vision operators, editors, directors, commentators, you name it and they tend to sub-contract to Sky.
Spark has been making inroads in to the first part of the sports equation - that of international rights - and now has launched in to the production side, with a four year deal that includes the Hockey World Cup, the Hockey Pro League and Olympic Qualification, as well as rights to the National Hockey League. And it will produce a lot of the content that is screened online.
Sky already has the rights to some rugby, football (the other sort) and some motorsport and if all goes well it will continue to bring in other codes long since cast aside by the mainstream media outlets. Gaelic football anyone?
On top of that, we now have a new sheriff in the red corner with Jason Paris taking up the reins at Vodafone.
Paris, an affable fellow who likes to talk about his products and services with actual customers, will have to do something to make Vodafone more relevant in the market because for the last couple of years the country's second largest telco has drifted somewhat. Paris says the company will list on the New Zealand stock exchange by 2020 and while that's long been a dream of various company officials, it's something that can distract from the actual game which is attracting and keeping customers.
Expect to see more noise from these two, and possibly from 2Degrees as well once a new CEO is announced there, in the coming months.
Exit stage left
I travelled internationally recently and once again marvelled at the "security theatre" through which any traveller must navigate.
First, the "did you pack your own bag" question. Well, yes, mostly, although my wife then repacked it because oh let's just put down "yes" shall we?
Then, once you're through departures, security, X-ray screening, duty free, run the gauntlet of lounges and gate finding if you're really lucky (we were, we were going to Hawaii) you find… a second wave of of security questions because the US demands you perform an encore.
Were we really sure we'd packed our own bags? Were we really sure nobody had given us anything to carry? Did we really know the name and address of the hotel where we were staying?
Come on, if you were serious about all of this you'd go through every bag and take everyone's shoes, belts, trousers and jackets off them and let everyone fly wearing only the paper jumpsuits we'd be issued at the airport.
I see the same thing playing out with the current political concerns about China and its growing influence in the region. Absent the USA, which seems a tad distracted at the moment, China is making huge inroads into making friends with countries that might not seem logical on the surface. One of those Pacific nations is of course New Zealand and as we are home to one of the more technologically advanced economies in the region, we get a lot of interest from the tech sector. Huawei, in particular, has found New Zealand welcoming and accommodating and we've gone so far as to build two mobile phone networks out of Huawei kit. This despite both the US and Australia screaming blue murder about spying devices, constant monitoring and the need to Protect Our Citizens From The Peril.
I'd take some of it more seriously if I didn't already think the US does exactly this kind of thing off its own bat when it can (remember Boeing vs Airbus where it turned out the US spooks were listening in on negotiations between Airbus and a big potential customer because Boeing is, of course, a strategic asset to the country) and if Nokia hadn't found itself complicit in the Iranian government's crackdown on mobile communication whenever it feels like.
We can't decide which network we'll use and we can't decide which country's spy agencies will be listening in, but we can decide whether we're going to be scared into making a choice that will, in the long run, mean our telco services cost more or cost less and that choice shouldn't be made on the whim of a politically charged game of "let's scare the locals".
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