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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 04 October 2019, 3:00 pm

Here's the weekly roundup and commentary on the big tech topics by TechBlog editor Paul Brislen.

Phone Home

The latest Commerce Commission review of the mobile market paints a rosy picture that has taken a long time to achieve.

With three network operators all using similar technology and with large scale network footprints, we have lowered the barriers to churn dramatically from the days where Vodafone used GSM and Telecom used CDMA, requiring a new number, a new phone and a steely willingness to change in order to switch.

Prices are down, usage is up, data is king and when you tell the kids about the Good Old Days they think you're lying to them.

It's not all sweetness and light of course. The new 5G spectrum auctions are still somewhat up in the air (literally as well as figuratively) and while Vodafone and Spark are busy outdoing each other in terms of marketing 5G (First! Biggest! Commercial! Available! Has customers!) there's still a long way to go before we can make the move to faster speeds, lower latency and more better faster.

But we've come so very far and it's tremendous to see and a lot of it is down to the regime in place. The days of super-light handed regulation (that is, none) left us needing more but the era of the Telecommunications Commissioner has largely been a tremendous success, albeit with the odd hiccup.

The current Commissioner, Dr Stephen Gale, took up the mantle in 2012 and has done a sterling job of guiding the industry to its current happy place. Stephen has, however, said he won't be re-enlisting and the hunt is on for a replacement, but thankfully some of the big gnarly challenges that faced the industry are behind us, so well done and thanks Dr Gale. Good luck in your next endeavour.

Techblog - Telecommunications Commissioner resigns

Commerce Commission - Mobile Market Report

Stuff - Mobile market gets clean bill of health from Commerce Commission

NZ Herald - Spark springs 5G surprise with rural wireless (PAID)

NZ Herald - Vodafone reveals wider 5G rollout; rivals welcome stop-gap plan (PAID)


Christchurch Call

The Government's Christchurch Call response to the terror attacks was always going to be a big ask. Getting together governments and social media giants in one place to discuss how best we will tackle hate speech and the use of technology to spread extremism was never going to be easy but given the lack of authority and influence the New Zealand government has in global terms, making use of the window of opportunity meant being bold and calling for action when the world's eyes were upon us.

So how's it shaking out?

In addition to the original countries a further 33 have signed up to be party to the proposed changes. Social media companies are engaged, if not doing a huge amount, and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) not-for-profit organisation has been boosted and re-tasked with coming up with solutions.

Now we'll have new, faster ways to alert social media platforms to a crisis that is unfolding on their turf. Now we'll have better ways to share information to help head off the wildfire like spread of objectionable materials. The GIFCT will have more funding and a mandate to tackle the big issues.

What won't change is anything the social media giants are doing at the most basic level. Facebook will continue to offer Facebook Live with no moderation or delay. There will be no attempt to change the algorithms so that users are no longer lead down the rabbit hole from Point A to Radical Fascist Content quite so quickly. There will be no introduction of New Zealand values and legal requirements for New Zealand users. It's business as usual for the tech giants and so long as they aren't forced to do anything they'll remain supportive.

This is the crux of the matter, really. Social media giants are responsible for the sharing and proliferation of fake news, of objectionable material, of extremist content and occasionally of "snuff porn". They don't pay much tax, they breach local court suppression orders and they operate in a manner that would suggest they think they're above legal redress in many ways.

The time is coming when a concerted coordinated national effort is required because as it stands today these companies operate outside the traditional channels of control. 

A large part of the problem in managing all this is the move from a geographic, horizontal model (countries) to a vertical one (social media platforms in particular don't care where you are) and the lack of accountability one has in the other's context. Which is not to say countries can't exert influence, but the days of total control (sorry, Australia) are over.

Stuff - Jacinda Ardern's 'Christchurch Call' has made strides, but is it worth much more than the paper it's written on?

Techblog - Significant progress made on eliminating terrorist content online

The Spin Off - Google on the next phase of the Christchurch Call


Live Streaming


Many years ago, when the Ultra Fast Broadband project was but a wee pup, I was asked to speak to a Rotary group (I think) about just how important it was and why it was a Good Thing.

Having espoused the virtues of tele-health, remote management, faster internet connectivity and all the rest, it was the promise of "television on the internet" that really upset them.

"Are you saying we're spending all this money to build a new way to get television?" one man angrily demanded.

Well, yes. Because if you can deliver television over these wires you can deliver so much more but people won't sign up for the "so much more" but they will sign up for television.

As with so many of my predictions, this too has come to pass. Call me Cassandra.

High definition content (sport, comedy, music, drama, documentaries, films, news and current affairs, whatever) delivered over the internet to your device seems so obvious but for many it's a gamble, something that might never happen and something that doesn't make much sense. 

The arrival of Netflix drove uptake of UFB to the home and now we're seeing an explosion of content providers. But of course this is New Zealand and the real reason we have televisions is to watch the captain of the All Blacks lift the Webb Ellis Cup aloft after a successful campaign, tournament after tournament.

So when Spark won the bid for the Rugby World Cup I was inundated with people wailing about what it all means and fretting about the impending calamity.

It'll be OK, I told them, and I tell you the same thing now.

Sure, there were issues and that's fine - it's what contingency planning is for. Sure, not everyone signed up in time for faster internet connections or for Spark Sport at the early bird price. Sure, not everyone has a large screen TV that is capable of downloading the app so they can watch the game but these are teething troubles and the upshot is, we now have a world class network that can deliver television content to the masses.

Of course, we still need to get the other services and apps up and running but that's tomorrow's problem. For today we should settle back and watch the game.

Over to you, guys.

Techblog - Full credit but some time in the sin bin: How did Spark get on?

MSN - 'Super laggy': All Blacks match streaming quality under fire again

Stuff - How free-to-air broadcasting works overseas and why it won't work in New Zealand

NZ Herald - Martin Devlin: Spark Sport came up short - but stop the exaggerated outrage (PAID)

NZ Herald - Juha Saarinen: Spark's issues aside, streaming is still the future of TV (PAID)

Stuff - Rugby World Cup 2019: Spark Sport's streaming is a national tragedy; or is it?


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