It’s been almost six months since the election and Amy Adams being appointed Communications and IT Minister following on from Steven Joyce.
Yesterday I posted on Adams’ activities since being made Minister. Opening ultrafast broadband (UFB) cabinets around the country has been a major activity. It hasn’t yet translated into people connecting to broadband. This is likely to become a serious risk for the government next year when the rubber meets the road on just how many people are connected to fibre.
Enthusiastic PR launches are one thing. But when it comes to addressing the serious competition issues which will impact on the uptake of the UFB by consumers, arguably one of the biggest issues in her portfolio, Adams has taken curiously contradictory views.
Back in February, at a Commerce Commission-organised conference , an issues paper on demand for faster broadband, entitled “Content and Willingness to Pay.” said bundled pay TV services had been a key factor in speeding fast broadband uptake overseas.
Much of the conference focussed on the role played by Sky TV which has made its MySky (and pending TVNZ joint venture) igloo boxes fibre-capable. But, as as has been reported, with its satellite business bringing in fat profits, there’s little motivation for it to provide content-over-fiber – at a price that would get households jumping to upgrade from copper. In the meantime, it was argued by many, Sky’s deals with internet service providers were a barrier to allowing other content providers fair access to the New Zealand consumer.
At that time Adams brushed aside concerns and poured cold water on the prospect of regulation mimicking her predecessor Steven Joyce and saying:
While I will be closely monitoring issues that might limit uptake or the effective implementation of faster broadband, I expect industry to show leadership in resolving such issues.
Where that does not occur, I’m more than prepared to step in, but I’m also aware that regulation can be a blunt tool. It is my view that in most cases, industry-driven solutions are better for industry and customers, and are more enduring. One such example is content.
… I will signal now that I’m cautious about reaching for regulation as a solution at this stage when it is still too early, in my view, to anticipate how the competitive content market will look in a UFB environment.
There have also been calls for a single regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications to deal with issues of this kind, but I’m equally sceptical about the benefits of shaking up the regulatory structure to deal with an issue that has yet to form into a clear shape and which the markets may yet solve. The Prime Minister has used the expression of it being a solution in search of a problem and I share that view.
Last week the Commerce Commission gave the green light for Sky and TVNZ to progress the Igloo joint venture, which has been described as Sky Light. But it also interestingly announced a surprise investigation into Sky TV’s content partnerships with internet service providers.
Cuirously Adams had this to say on Twitter:
ComCom inquiring into Sky’s control of content market. Always my view that was within their jurisdiction so good to see will be looked at.
I wasn’t the only one to scratch my head over this statement. Not only did it contradict her earlier statements which were that it was no business of the regulator to look into the content market. But she delivered the view on Twitter with no other accompanying statement. Changed her tune?
Tom Pullar Strecker writes in the DomPost about this today. It could be that the government has finally woken up to the fact it has been on the wrong side of this issue. It could be that Adams doesn’t understand the implications of what she said. Seems a bit confused at best.
It’s more likely she’s under instructions from Steven Joyce to change her tune because he sees the writing on the wall for regulatory change.