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Labour’s ICT policy - some interesting ideas

“Accidentally” sent out by Clare Curran, the Labour ICT policy ideas (they’re not policy, just ideas) are interesting. They send some strong messages that the other parties will need to respond too. You can see the document here for the full analysis. [UPDATE: Labour leader David Cunliffe has so far only announced one ICT policy a Digital Bill of Rights that would allow "the right to access the internet [and] that we should have the right to be free from blanket surveillance from the GCSB". Details have yet to be filled in - Editor.]

What is most interesting is the Policy Options section, which we’ll take a look at.

There is mention of an Office of the CTO, which we can assume is an independent, new, standalone agency with responsibility for ICT in New Zealand. Where that leaves the current GCIO role, embedded in DIA, is anyone’s guess. However, this sends a strong message that Labour thinks ICT has grown up and recognises that the ICT industry in New Zealand is a major player. Points for carrying this through.

KiwiMap is an annual ICT roadmap for New Zealand produced by the government CTO (GCTO). Again, if this is an independent view rather than a “mandated” strategy, and it can remain fresh and current (that’s hard in government), then this too is a good idea. It certainly could cut the costs of agencies having to procure independent advice on technology futures.

KiwiCode is a requirement for government ICT Projects to hire Kiwi firms and staff. This is something that NZRise has lobbied hard for over the years and makes a great deal of sense. The cost to hire local firms and staff via a multi-national is horrendous, with almost no value added, most of the time (it’s rare). Just exactly how you would enact this policy would be interesting to hear.

KiwiCall asks for “a revision of NZ telephony architecture to recognise technological advances.” There isn’t enough detail here but it seems to suggest that the provision of broadband at a minimum guarantee, and potentially free level for everyone is in its thinking. It’s a great idea, it has worked overseas – but I’m not sure that New Zealand has the scale to make it sustainable. It’s kind of like taxing the rich to feed the poor in broadband terms. But I could be completely wrong.

KiwiCap seems to extrapolate out of KiwiCall, “A fixed monthly amount of bandwidth per citizen. Can be provided to some as a ‘benefit'.” Again, this appears to the the “socialisation” of internet services,that is, having them being an inalienable right of all citizens and delivered as a “benefit” if necessary. An interesting concept.

KiwiCloud looks to give every citizen “a fixed amount of encrypted digital storage.” Labour has flirted with similar ideas before and never really got them to fly. I think that this is a non-starter for a few reasons. One, you can get entry-level cloud encrypted services for free. Two, how many people are going to be comfortable putting their data (encrypted or not) into a government-owned service. I wouldn’t. It’s a perception issue, reinforced by the long-reach of the GCSB and SIS, that will put people off. Not a great idea, in my opinion.

Kiwis Come Home looks at ways to attract ICT talent back to New Zealand. Again, it’s an ok idea but it probably needs a little balance. “Under MBIE provide Digital Business Migration Incentives.” This could backfire a little bit. Not only do we need people back, we also need to retain the ones we have. It would annoy people that people rotating back from overseas got benefits that the locals didn’t. It’s a good start but it needs a counter balance.

ICT Careers. Not much information here  however it is a policy idea in relation to the fact that slices of the ICT sector suffer a lack of skilled resource and we need to train our future generations to be able to operate in a digital world. Mind you, if you’ve ever seen a five year old with a tablet, I suspect we don’t need to do all that much training. Suggested elsewhere in the document are ideas like ICT Apprenticeships. Something that I have advocated for a long time, after all, ICT is really just a trade like any other.

The problem that traditional ICT education has is threefold. It’s full of academics who are not as flexible as ICT is itself. This makes for the second problem – by the time a three year education course has finished, it’s redundant. Finally, teaching the entire ICT stack from wires to applications takes too long, it needs to be split out and more credence given to on the job training. Still, overall, you can see a strong policy in education, which is good.

KiwiContent hints at avoiding us being locked into stupid IP agreements and contracts with others. It makes sense.

Other areas of the policy ideas look at digital rights and digital communities. One is a swing at the privacy issues and the other supporting that idea of internet for all.

All in all, a well-balanced and interesting set of ideas. Of course, Labour, regardless of whether you agree with its policy generally, has always led the ICT side of things above the other parties that generally have either no ICT policy, confuse it with “communications” or have single liners.

It will be interesting to see them rise up against Labour’s ideas. Because they aren’t too bad.

Ian Apperley is the director at Isis Group and blogs at Whatisitwellington