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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 19 October 2018, 3:00 pm

The ghost of digital futures

It must be about 16 years since we all gathered in Nelson to talk about the future. It was so long ago it hardly makes sense to talk about. Paul Swain was Minister of Communications. We almost had a Telecommunications Act (it might have just come into being) but the role of the Telecommunications Commissioner was so bright and shiny I don't think we'd seen a single decision.

Telecom was in charge of the phones. There was no competition. There was no Google! There wasn't even any wholesale - unbundling was for Communists.

Yet around 200 of us met in Nelson to talk about the future, to provide some inspiration for what we would hope the next steps would be.

The Telecommunication Users Association (TUANZ) put it together - ten industry sector groups, each with a facilitator and a journalist who would write the detail up in a chapter for the book ("The Survival of the Fastest" which beat out my suggestion, "The Haptic Hongi" and cost me a case of pinot noir. The book is still available at the Nostradamus School of Prognostication I suspect) which would then be waved around by futurists and the like.

My sector was tourism - a sector about which I cared very little but hey, it was a paying gig and although it was cold in Nelson it was beautiful.

But we didn't have time to muck about. We only had a weekend and there was a lot of ground to cover.

I've been thinking about that weekend a bit lately after I found a reference to the book when doing some research on something else entirely. Instantly I was transported back to a time when the Nokia 2110 was my phone of choice, my internet was broadband in name only (Thanks, Nokia, For the M1122 router delivering ADSL at 1Mbit/s down) but our minds were full of possibility.

The premise was simple: imagine what a world where internet access was ubiquitous and equitable - what impact would that have on your sector?

So we started imagining. How about an online service that would let us update our photo albums so the folks back home could see our holiday snaps and maybe even (whisper it) video? In real time.

Gasp! (we just invented Facebook)

Or what about goggles that would transmit pictures of what this particular tourist destination used to look like for places of historical importance? You could see Roman London or Victorian London or WWII Blitz London, or turn-of-the-century Nelson!

Gasp! (we just invented augmented reality).

I often wonder why none of us followed up on the work being done (other than Dr Mark Billinghurst, of course, who actually made a career out of doing just that) but we all put it down to youthfully exuberance and came back to earth with a thump.

Thinking about the future is really quite important, especially for a small nation at the far end of the world's trade routes. How we adapt and adopt this new fangled technology is important in many, not just tourism, but right across our lives and none more so than in government.

Pia Andrews is well known to many (probably more so as Pia Waugh but that's another story) and her move to Australia to head up the New South Wales government digital team left something of a hole in the New Zealand digital government landscape.

Of course, that hole was somewhat obliterated by the CTO comet of early 2018, but we've covered that at some length.

Pia has written about the work she's undertaking for the Aussies and her team's approach, with their five tangible goals, make a lot of sense.

For the record those goals are:

  1. Delivery of measurable benefits to the people across the whole government ecosystem;
  2. Modelling new ways for public service to work more openly and collaboratively;
  3. All-of-service transformation including strategy, policy and importantly, culture;
  4. Government to be a social and economic platform upon which "individuals, communities and businesses can thrive; and
  5. To establish systemic levers to drive a holistic approach from public servants.

These are bold and useful goals that aren't pie in the sky "what if" dreams but should be quite attainable.

It's something we might like to consider for New Zealand's future as well.

Techblog - A better tomorrow requires change today

Beehive - Rocking Ahead With Fast Internet - TUANZ (2003)


Video is demanding

One of the things we foresaw in 2003 was the imminent demise of Sky TV.

Even then it seemed clear that broadcasting television signals over a dedicate set-top box was a mug's game, destined for the rubbish tip of history. TV was just another series of bits and once broadband was fast enough and those Nokia goggles were cheap enough, we'd all be watching TV beamed into our eyeballs from the internet.

We might not have quite got the goggles bit right (although I have high hopes) but we certainly got the beaming bang to rights.

Last month saw a turning point in New Zealand - for the first time more customers watched Netflix than watched Sky TV. The average household in New Zealand uses around 150GB of data a month - equivalent to 60 hours of HD video being streamed each month. No word on whether that figure includes uploading but either way, that's a lot of binge watching.

Today, TVNZ regularly puts its TV shows to air first via its On Demand app and then over traditional broadcast TV.

In our house we watch a lot of television, but almost none of it is in real time delivered by broadcast capability. I'd say somewhere around 99% of it is delivered online and the only time we watch broadcast is when the All Blacks are playing (assuming I haven't gone to the pub). In fact, the biggest problem we face is the kid not liking that she has to wait a week (sorry, "a WHOLE week") for the next episode of Vanity Fair because she's just not used to it. Poor thing.

There's talk now of Sky TV being sold (possibly along with MediaWorks) to US broadcaster, NBC, but frankly it's almost as if we're discussing the buggy whip union annual gathering after Ford launched the Model T. They're still seen to be powerful and controlling but these days most folks just don't pay them much attention.

Where to next for Sky? Well, content has gone digital and that's an area they need to really beef up. But in order to do that they'll have to stop treating it as an add-on feature that mustn't cannibalise the existing customer base and realise that the existing customer base is no longer theirs for the taking. Digital first must be the company's new mantra and given they're starting a long way back, they really need to get a wriggle on. The future isn't going to wait for ever, you know.

Techblog - SKY TV boss on content wars, satellite vs UFB

NZ Herald - Sky TV buyout rumour as AGM looms

NZ Herald - Netflix now bigger than Sky: Kiwi broadband habits reveal growing hunger for online content

NZ Herald - Comment: Five ways to save Sky TV

The Guardian - Netflix and Amazon become more popular than pay-TV services (July 2018)

Broadband TV News - Netflix overtakes Sky Deutschland in customer numbers (October 2018)

NZ Herald - Fog over Sky Television's financial forecasts as it takes shots at Spark

NZ Herald - Derek Handley under fire at Sky Television AGM


Goods and Services

I shop online quite a lot. Much like watching TV, I like my real world goods chosen from my couch, delivered to my couch and I don't want to wait while someone thinks about bringing the product to a local market near me.

Generally speaking, I buy from international websites and there are a number of reasons for this but in my top ten reasons, avoiding paying GST has never been one of them.

However, the retailers of New Zealand have assured the government that the imbalance in shopping behaviours is exacerbated by the lack of GST and the government has responded by introducing a new GST threshold for imported goods.

If the plan goes ahead, the changes will be introduced from 1 October next year, giving everyone plenty of time to get used to the idea. Prices will naturally go up for goods bought overseas, right? That'll need some managing.

But not so fast, because why the government is introducing GST on all goods, it's removing tariffs and border costs on goods that sell for below $1000, so that will also have an impact.

And goods that are between $400 and $1000 have a different treatment again… so they might be cheaper than they currently are.

It's all very entertaining and the story below has a handy chart to explain it all.

At the end of the day two things will happen:

  1. People will continue to shop online, both locally and internationally.
  2. Retailers in New Zealand will continue to complain about customers buying from the wrong source.

The reason for that is because, as I mentioned early, GST is not the largest factor in purchasing decisions.

I was in a bookshop the other day and saw a book I'd quite like to read.

I like bookshops. I want to live in a community where bookshops exist. I like the smell of them, the off-putting sniff of superiority from the staff member when you ask about some trash novel, the whole thing.

I turned the book over for the sticker price -  $38 (including GST).

I put the book back and went home bookless, wherein I picked up my Kindle and bought the book for $7.

The price differential is just too great. I could justify spending double or even triple on a paper-book but more than five times the rate? No.

I still buy paper books, but I buy them from international providers as well, because somehow they can send me a large format hardcopy illustrated edition of The Hobbit to my house at far less cost than I would pay if I bought it locally, and that's assuming I could find the same edition to buy. Typically, I can not.

I shop online because it's convenient. I shop online because the goods are delivered to my door. I shop online because I can buy stuff that's not yet available in New Zealand and I shop online because the same goods are usually vastly cheaper than they are in New Zealand.

I couldn't give a fig about GST. Add it on. Add on another 15% if you like. It's all good. It's still cheaper and quicker to buy online from an international store, and that means this change to a "fairer" system won't make a blind bit of difference.

Online Shopping.jpg

Interest - Govt proposes law change to require overseas retailers selling goods to New Zealanders online to start paying GST

Stuff - Tax-free internet shopping to end next October

NZ Herald - Government changes tack on online shopping GST to avoid price hikes

IRD - Summary of Proposals


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