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Labour's David Cunliffe on ICT - Part 2

26 Dec 13

A long time ICT fan, David Cunliffe was keen to step back into an ICT role, taking over as Labour spokesperson when he took over the reins as Opposition leader.

He talks to Heather Wright about technology's role in his life, and for New Zealand in general.

ICT shortcomings

He's undeniably proud of his role in breaking up Telecom's market monopoly, its stranglehold on the local loop, and the company itself, and strenghtening the role of the Commerce Commission. And he's equally happy to point out what he perceives as his opponent's shortcomings.

In 2008 he launched Labour's 'Digital Strategy 2.0', an update to Labour's 'flagship' Digital Strategy, launched in 2005, with its building blocks of 'super fast connection, enhanced user confidence and cool content'.

“It wasn't just about the connectivity,” he says, though he notes 'that's a given [requirement]'. “It was also about getting users capable and confident and having the content available – the killer app.

“And that's part of the real problem with the failed [UFB] roll out we see now,” he says. “The uptake is so low because the content is not there.” Cunliffe is scathing of National's handling of the situation when they took power in 2008.

“When I left the position of Minister of ICT in 2008 we had a quarter of a billion dollar regional broadband programme ready to go.”

Cunliffe says the documents 'were sitting on my desk' awaiting signoff, but because of constitutional requirements to enable the incoming minister, Stephen Joyce, to review the project, the deal wasn't signed off.

Under the new government, things went on hold for another two years, Cunliffe says, before re- emerging as the ultrafast broadband initiative.

“We call like to call it Ultra Slow Broadband because of the snails pace of the rollout.

“The work is proceeding, and the fibre is going in the ground ok, but the number of Kiwis linking up is absolutely dire and that's because of the lack of education and an online environment that does not contain all the killer apps,” he say, adding that if Hulu and Netflix were available, signup would likely be higher.

He's adament broadband needs to be better priced for the average Kiwi, recounting the story of one constituent, a mental health nurse, who after paying rent has just $125 a week for all other expenses for herself and her two children.

“For people like that, every cent counts and we shouldn't be subsidising Chorus at the expense of families like that,” he says, noting one of the current hot potatoes – Chorus' claims it'll go broke if forced to drop its access charges by the 23% determined by the Commerce Commission.

He claims Labour would look at low interest loans to defray the cost of hooking up to broadband to stop those at economic disadvantage having a technology disadvantage 'layered on top'.

A 'coherent digital strategy' is also necessary he says, and one that includes not just the connection, but content. “We need to look at the whole system and have a dispassionate assessment of the road blocks so we can make bold moves going forward.

“We don't want to just bail out, but work out what is behind the problems.”

To read Part 1 of David Cunliffe’s exclusive interview with The Channel click here

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