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26 Jul 2015
Last week I was in Auckland NZ for the Internet Society board meeting and the impressively successful InterCommunity 2015 online event. Immediately after that (in the same room, even) was NetHui 2015, an annual event about the Internet by and for New Zealanders.
NZ is an unusual place. It has the population of Louisiana spread out over an area the size of California, with about 1/3 of them in and near Auckland and the south island still very sparsely settled, with a population still small enough that it feels like everyone knows everyone else. It is as developed as any other first world country, but is a long way from other similarly developed countries. (Australia is 3 1/2 hours away by air.) It has close connections to many small Pacific islands, and has a significant number of Maori, who have gained considerable economic influence in recent decades.
It's not technologically backward, but it's socially fairly conservative (the usual joke as the plane arrives is "welcome to New Zealand, please set your watches back 20 years".) The New Zealanders I know consider it a wonderful place to live, and I wouldn't disagree with them.
NetHui was simultaneously very informal and very structured. There was a keynote, given by ISOC president Kathy Brown, after which there were several parallel sessions. Most of the sessions had specific topics, some had a whiteboard outside on which people write topics they'd like to discuss at the next session, some of which looked pretty interesting. There were sessions in which Maori discussed what they'd been discussing, and a Chill Out room.
Each session had a person in a high viz vest who could give a five-minute timeout to anyone who was unruly or disrespectful. It was never a problem in any of the sessions I attended, but apparently there were some issues several years ago and the organizers wanted to be sure they didn't happen again. What I did see was an impressive level of attention and consideration. In each session they passed around mikes for the benefit of remote participants, and as the mikes were passed I was impressed how everyone paid attention, stayed on topic or explicitly started a new one, and overall made each session extremely worthwhile.
One session was about rural Internet access, which is of course an issue in a largely rural country, with discussions of fiber to schools, whether it was adequate to use a school as a local access center or if the people were too spread out, and so forth.
Another was about media and copyright. Movies and videos have what's known as territorial licensing, with separate licensing needed for each country. While nobody is particularly opposed to licensing stuff in NZ, it's not high on the list for producers in Europe and North America, so a lot of people use VPNs to make their computers appear to be in the US so they can subscribe to Netflix. There was a lot of conversation about that, particularly with a local provider that has local licenses for a lot of stuff, but not all of it. He pointed out that when you pay for an NZ service, it supports the arts in NZ, while if you tunnel to the US, your money disappears into the US. Nobody exactly disagreed with him, but there was a lot of frustration from people who were happy to pay for stuff but couldn't find anyone to take their money.
I was thinking that they needed compulsory licensing, any provider could show anything with a fixed payment back to the owner if they can't agree on a specific license. Late in the session someone mentioned that as an "Internet license", but too late for much follow up. Overall, though, it's a tough topic and you could feel people thinking hard about it.
There was an even more interesting session about mobile device apps and the corporations that control them, but I'll save that for tomorrow.
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