Communications Minister Curran delves deeper into digital convergence

The government has put the draft Digital Convergence Bill on hold.

Communications and Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran has shelved existing work on the blurring lines between telecommunications and broadcasting, known as digital convergence, to revisit inconsistencies in the way online content is regulated.

The government has put the draft Digital Convergence Bill on hold and will go back to stakeholders for another round of consultation to address what Curran says were unaddressed inconsistencies in the previous administration's review. In a statement yesterday, Curran said the draft bill by her predecessor Amy Adams didn't adequately address differing views in the sector on how to deal with the likes of streaming video content and wants more feedback before starting work next year.

"It's essential to achieve consistency and certainty for the public on classification and standards and ensure fairness across the sector, so I'll be consulting with stakeholders to reach greater agreement on the bill," Curran said. "This is particularly important for the grey area of classifying on-demand content, which falls through the gaps in the current system."

Last year, then-minister Adams signalled plans to extend the reach of the Broadcasting Act to capture on-demand content while making explicit that the Film, Videos, and Publications Classification Act didn't apply, while carving out user-generated clips on sites such as Facebook and Google's YouTube and excluding news and current affairs. She also planned to relax Sunday morning advertising restrictions.

Those changes followed a wider review of the regulatory framework for content classification, telecommunications and radio spectrum regime, whether infrastructure needed to be developed to support convergence, a refresh of the cyber strategy plan, how GST applies to online services, a study of copyright in the creative sector, and the data futures partnership.

In the lead-up to the review, the previous administration was coming under increased pressure from internet service providers, online content creators, and traditional broadcasters to take the issue of digital convergence more seriously. Since then, pay-TV operator Sky Network Television has struggled to compete with on-demand rivals, Spark New Zealand has entered the content business with its Lightbox offering, and media groups NZME and Fairfax New Zealand have unsuccessfully sought to create a national newspaper publishing monopoly to shore up their ailing advertising revenue streams against the likes of digital giants Google and Facebook.

Curran yesterday said she expects to have more information before the end of the year on how consensus can be built, but if that can't be reached the government will go ahead with a plan that won't please everyone.

"Today's media world offers many platforms and gives consumers more choice and accessibility," she said. "It's vital to have a robust and flexible system in place that works for providers and consumers alike."