Here’s my take on the top 10 things I learned from the excellent last three days at NetHui. Your take may be quite different, so please comment.
1: There is general alignment on the important issues
While the participants at NetHui from diverse backgrounds, and had diverse agendas, the basic and strong alignment was compelling. We want the Internet, and we want more of it. We want copyright legislation that works to help creators earn income, and yet is fair and reasonable to society. We want governance processes that are more open, more online and easier to engage with. And so on.
2: We need to hear from the main carriers
They were absent at NetHui, and much that is discussed relies on them continuing to ramp up their provision of high speed internet with caps, if any that are very high. It would have been great to hear from them, to understand their concerns (loss of telephony revenue for example) and to see them immersed in some of the key messages from the other stakeholders.
3: We have made tremendous progress
We have made tremendous strides in the last few years. The UFB and RBI programs, while we may disagree on the process or implementation, are now set in place. The industry can now get on with the task of delivering fibre to the premise.
The Copyright Commissioner led a session where it became clear that Open Data is now the default for national Government (small n, big G), and increasingly so for local government. Open Government is increasingly a catch-phrase and there is wider general acceptance of the concept. These are tremendous changes from two years ago when advocates were struggling to be heard.
The S92A and rest of the copyright law is in place, and nobody is happy with it- which is perhaps a good sign. There is also, however, recognition that it needs to be revisited in the next few years, and increasing understanding of the implications of restrictive laws and that creators need to be able to earn a decent return. Why not engage Laurence Lessig to help draft those Copyright 2.0 laws?
We in NZ are recognised for our functioning democratic process, by Lawrence Lessig no less, and the presence of so many MPs at NetHui was good evidence of that. We are able to engage with lawmakers and law writers easily, in public and in private, and there is plenty of evidence that they listen. Above all we have a process that prioritises good and sustainable outcomes for New Zealand and we use logic and reason to get there. We may squabble at the margins, but the main thrust of change is towards a common goal.
4: We have unlimited potential
We are a tiny country, and so we have to look outwards. Our free trade addressable market is about 2 billion people strong, we have a wealth of talent, both here and offshore and we top the rankings on both lack of corruption and ease of doing business. People like us and trust us, and our diaspora is quietly influential across the world, pushing our values through their behavior rather than through preaching. Our internet infrastructure might have issues but we are making tremendous progress towards that. The internet brings us closer to the rest of the world, and the future has huge possibilities.
5: The focus for change has moved to the next tier
While we may not be universally happy with UFB, Copyright and open data progress, those battles are fought, and we are moving on to the next layer. The focus is now on helping Government procurement save money for the country, deliver better value for the country and help our own companies start and grow. It’s also moving towards how we wire up houses and schools to take advantage of the fibre, and on how we ensure teachers are use the connectivity to create transformation in and out of the classroom. There is more unsolved, not the least the low data caps, and we need to keep the pressure on all of these processes.
6: Change is coming and constant – so let’s plan for it
The community at NetHui recognises, as Larry Lessig so eloquently pointed out, that the Internet drives continuous change and places pressure on existing institutions. We can’t be sure of what is coming, but we should support and nudge new endeavours, nudging them in the right direction rather than taking a negative stance.
The continuous change has implications for our lawmakers and enforcers, who must structure and implement laws that are practical and enduring.
7: Things are better when there is genuine multiparty engagement
NetHui itself worked well as the sessions were interactive, with the session leader being a facilitator rather than a lecturer. This resulted in a genuine exchange of views, work towards alignment and mutual respect.
It’s that same with crafting laws, starting and growing businesses, ensuring equal accessibility and with creating content.
The more people that are genuinely engaged, that more companies we have attacked the gaps in the market, the more we participate the better the outcomes.
8: The market should be the first answer – but not necessarily sufficient
A Government’s role is a custodian, but not the owner of, amongst other things, an economy and people. That means that they should monitor and intervene only where there are unfair or inefficient outcomes. The UFB program addressed a market failure, but as Minister Joyce said the backhaul market is being monitored but no Government action is happening – yet. It means helping monopoly situations turn into competitive ones, and a constant focus on the best outcomes for New Zealand.
The New Zealand Government is increasingly aware of this – from most parties it seems – and the start-up ecosystem is thriving. The Commerce Commission and the FMA approach otherwise get out of the way, make sure it’s fair, comcom teeth, transparency so we can see that it’s fair
The Government can also support industry and individuals with targeted policy and spending. The REANNZ international capacity commitment, announced about a month ago, is a good example of something that has been genuinely helpful to Pacific Fibre, and creates tremendous value for the research, educational and innovation communities. The future work on procurement promises much.
9: We care about the internet, and it’s incredibly important
NetHui attracted a high quality participant list – and this was a conference that was open to anyone. We saw several school age people, the occasional aging walrus, MPs, technologists, business people, educators, NGO representatives and more. We were united by a single cause – and all agree that internet is vital infrastructure and that the access, skills and technology required to take advantage of it are crucial.
10: Internet NZ has played a central facilitator role
NetHui was a genuine meeting of the Internet ecosystem, and a genuine success. Credit goes in particular to Vikram Kumar for driving the effort, one that I confess as a Councillor I was initially sceptical of. It helped that the name was changed from Internet Governance Forum to NetHui (Vikram’s idea). It also helped that we gained valuable sponsorship from Google, FX Networks, Trade Me, Scoop Media Cartel, Alcatel-Lucent, TelstraClear, CatalystIT, Citylink and webdrive.
But it was the considerable support from Internet NZ that allowed us to drop the entry price to a level that everyone could afford. The Council were aggressive and unanimous in its stance around the entry price, and the team delivered a fantastic outcome. InternetNZ is a relatively small organisation, membership wise, but we do have a steady income from the dot nz mandate. I would encourage all NetHui attendees to join, to take part in the policy and member conversations and to stand for Council if that’s your thing.
Supporting NetHui was an excellent use of our income – and for sure we’ll be doing this again.