Open Internet and New Zealand media companies

Written By: - Date published: 10:53 am, April 5th, 2015 - 33 comments
Categories: internet, interweb, Media - Tags: , ,

I was a relatively early user of the internet.  I can recall clearly in 1994 when I managed to get a browser to work and marvelled at how a page containing information in the South Pole appeared somewhat slowly via modem on my computer screen.  Things have not been the same ever since.

The philosophy of the internet always appealed.  It was meant to be open, completely indifferent to wealth and class and was intended to provide infrastructure which all people could use.  Its freedom and the lack of censorship meant that a free flow of ideas and debate could occur.

Those principles have been jealously protected.  For instance net neutrality, the idea that all data should be treated equally, has been a recent issue.  This Wikipedia article on net neutrality summarises the thinking that went behind the process.  For instance:

According to Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney, all content must be treated the same and must move at the same speed in order for net neutrality to be true. They say that it is this simple but brilliant end-to-end aspect that has allowed the Internet to act as a powerful force for economic and social good.

Another important principle is that of the open internet.  Again from the above article:

The idea of an open Internet is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it are easily accessible to all individuals and companies. This often includes ideas such as net neutrality, open standardstransparency, lack of Internet censorship, and low barriers to entry. The concept of the open Internet is sometimes expressed as an expectation of decentralized technological power, and is seen by some as closely related to open-source software.

In New Zealand there is an attempt to reduce the openness of the local internet by some of the big Telcos and media companies threatening to take Callplus (owner of Slingshot and Orcon) to court to try and prevent its offering to consumers of Global Mode.  This allows individuals to select for instance a US based IP address.  An individual’s Netflix account for instance would then be populated with about ten times as much to watch including importantly for politicos the American version of House of Cards as they could access from the local Netflix service.  This would hurt the likes of Sky TV’s bottom line because it has paid for the rights to show this series locally.

The parties seeking to stop Callplus are Spark (owner of Lightbox), MediaWorks, Sky TV and TVNZ.

I get the feeling that they are trying to hold back the tide.  The problem with data is that the internet is extremely capable at delivering it anywhere in the world and why a local ticket clicker should be able to profit from local broadcasting of the data is difficult to justify.  And even if Callplus backs down there are a multitude of products such as HideMyAss that will provide an American IP address for a very modest price.

NBR’s Chris Keal has written a number of articles on this issue and thinks that Callplus have a sound legal position.

CallPlus took legal advice from Lowndes Jordan principal Rick Shera before it launched Global Mode and before it made it open to all customers. Mr Shera likens accessing Netflix from New Zealand to parallel importing and says Global Mode is in accordance with the Fair Trading Act, Copyright Act and other laws. Chapman Tripp partner Justin Graham leans in the same direction.

“I’d expect to see increasing activity in this kind of space. It is consistent with New Zealand’s policy on intellectual property, parallel importing and geographical restrictions, namely that geographical restrictions are not consumer-friendly and New Zealand consumers should be able to access copyright content in a competitive and cost-effective environment,” Mr Graham told NBR.

In general terms major media corporations pressuring an internet provider to reduce what it offers on the basis that their bottom line otherwise suffers really rankles.  I hope Callplus wins.

33 comments on “Open Internet and New Zealand media companies ”

  1. JanMeyer 1

    Not sure I agree. Hard to like them but the major broadcasters paid good coin for the exclusive NZ rights to broadcast certain content from the owners of that content. The ‘global plus’ mechanism provides an easy way for New Zealanders to access that content without regard to the contractual rights granted and paid for. A likely consequence of actively allowing such things as ‘global plus’ will be to further erode the financial viability of local broadcasters. Is that in New Zealand’s strategic interests?

    • mickysavage 1.1

      The problem is the whole distribution model has changed and allowing local monopolies on content so that they can make a profit is not sustainable.

      And if Callplus is stopped there are other ways to get the content.

      The broadcasters are looking more and more like dinosaurs IMHO. Content makers need to be supported. That is why New Zealand On Air funding for local content is so important. But do we need anything more than this? Do we really want more shows like the Batchelor or New Zealand’s got talent?

    • weka 1.2

      I can see the fairness to the companies angle, but then I remember that NZ broadcast tv networks have prioritised profit over good service and have basically screwed the small opportunity that television had as a medium to be something that enhanced and bettered NZ society. They’ve dicked around viewers both on content and programming so much that now I just think fuck ’em.

      Which leaves the issue of NZ’s strategic interests. I’d love to see TVNZ made into a real state broadcaster with public interest as it’s primary concern (along with RNZ being properly funded). But I agree there is a danger of free to air television being lost simply because we are a small population and the cost of buying and broadcasting the latest tv shows as they come out is never going to work here in the way it works overseas.

      I also am mindful that delivery via the internet is completely dependent on good internet access and I’m guessing micky’s comment about the internet being extremely capable of delivering anywhere in the world reflects the fact that he lives in a big city (and can afford the data) 😉

      The only way to know what is fair is to look at who still needs free to air tv, and to what extent those people will be disadvantaged because of cost or poor access to good broadband.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1

        I also am mindful that delivery via the internet is completely dependent on good internet access and I’m guessing micky’s comment about the internet being extremely capable of delivering anywhere in the world reflects the fact that he lives in a big city (and can afford the data) 😉

        And if we hadn’t sold Telecom or deregulated it everyone would have broadband data already and be able to afford it. Again, it’s a case of the ticket clippers coming in and screwing us over for their own enrichment.

        • TheContrarian 1.2.1.1

          “And if we hadn’t sold Telecom or deregulated it everyone would have broadband data already and be able to afford it”

          There is actually no possible you can know that. Yet you say with such certainty.

          • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1.1.1

            We’ve had this argument before. You proved that you’re a complete ignoramus then and are totally dishonest as you twisted words to try to make them mean something else so all I’m going to say is:

            Fuck off troll.

            • TheContrarian 1.2.1.1.1.1

              So you just make shit up then…and when someone calls you out on it you resort to naked abuse.

              • weka

                Care to explain why both fixed line and mobile broadband in NZ is still expensive and fast speeds not available in many places?

                • No idea. But unlike Draco I’m not just going to make statements of certainty on speculative “what ifs”

                  • weka

                    I don’t think it’s any secret that Telecom was rolling out new tech as it was being sold. There’s no good reason to assume that if the state had still owned telecom that would have stopped. Then it’s just a matter of whether the state could ensure that Telecom served the public good. Technically yes, politically, who knows. I don’t know what you are arguing about really.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.3

      The ‘global plus’ mechanism provides an easy way for New Zealanders to access that content without regard to the contractual rights granted and paid for.

      In an internet connected world the only people I should be dealing with are the content creators no matter where they are geographically. I should not be having to deal with the people who want to set themselves up as gatekeepers for that content so that they can become rich from others work while not producing any wealth themselves.

      A likely consequence of actively allowing such things as ‘global plus’ will be to further erode the financial viability of local broadcasters.

      Actually, that’s incorrect. It’s likely to increase the viability as NZ produced content would become available to more people directly from the content producers.

      • weka 1.3.1

        It’s not just NZ produced content though. It’s free to air content that currently gets bought in from overseas. What Callplus are doing is allowing people who can afford it to circumvent the current commercial structure. One of the downsides of that may be the loss of free to air broadcasting if the networks here lose enough customers.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.3.1.1

          What Callplus are doing is allowing people who can afford it to circumvent the current commercial structure.

          Which is indicative that the current commercial structure doesn’t work and thus needs to be allowed to fail rather than that it should be protected.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    The parties seeking to stop Callplus are Spark (owner of Lightbox), MediaWorks, Sky TV and TVNZ.

    In an action that has become fairly typical. They spend all their time telling us how good a free-market is and the benefits that we would get from it but, once they’re confronted with having an actual free-market, they immediately take steps to prevent it. An actual free-market gets rid of the over paid ticket clippers and they seem to be very well aware of that.

    • NZSage 2.1

      Spot on!

      Capitalists constantly tell us that we live in a global market and we have to accept the high international prices for commodity items a la milk, cheese, lamb, petrol etc…

      But when Joe Public gets the chance to leverage cheaper overseas prices it seems the global market rules no longer apply and the same capitalist cry foul.

      They say you can’t have your cake and eat it but boy do these guys try!

    • JanMeyer 2.2

      As I say, hard to defend the broadcasters who have seen slow to adapt to the reality of the internet, but “free markets” are predicated on (among other things) the rule of law and that includes being able to protect and enforce contractual rights. Once (or if) the content providers that have granted the so called exclusive rights start to see that they won’t be able to command their exorbitant fees for licenses in the future (because of workarounds like ‘global plus’, if these are established to be legal) it may (hopefully) lead to a world where non-exclusive licences become the norm as it is in the music industry. Then we can watch House of Cards on a variety of streaming, satellite or terrestrial broadcast services.

      • Draco T Bastard 2.2.1

        We’re not talking about the content providers but the ticket clippers in the middle between the consumers and the content providers.

        • JanMeyer 2.2.1.1

          The content providers have historically granted exclusive rights to broadcast their shows by territory to local broadcasters. My point (hope!) is that over time those licences will become non-exclusive as they are in music. It may well be that not all local broadcasters can adapt to the changing technological landscape quickly enough to survive in their current shape.

          (The ‘ticket clippers’ you refer to – TVNZ, Mediaworks, Sky etc) are of course New Zealand based companies that employ thousands of people and pay taxes to the New Zealand government).

          • Draco T Bastard 2.2.1.1.1

            (The ‘ticket clippers’ you refer to – TVNZ, Mediaworks, Sky etc) are of course New Zealand based companies that employ thousands of people and pay taxes to the New Zealand government).

            Actually, most of them a foreign based and pay very little to no tax in NZ. Also, jobs really aren’t that important as there simply isn’t enough work to employ everyone full time. That’s why we’re seeing the rise of Bullshit Jobs.

          • tc 2.2.1.1.2

            ‘ It may well be that not all local broadcasters can adapt to the changing technological landscape quickly enough to survive in their current shape…’

            So they fight it tooth and nail with the usual weapons of distraction and even more hilarious reasons why we should pay many multiples of the true and fair usage charge for their middle man position.

            Yesterdays business model now and IMO the only way these organisations stay alive is by massive sporting rights acquisitions as they grasp at an immediate realtime audience which long slipped away. Oz with AFL, UK with Football etc.

            This play into content is the same old dumb shit TVNZ did with Tivo, many ISP’s are already way beyond what these old media dinosaur entities have been offering.

  3. Bill 3

    My tuppence-worth is that the internet offers up a nice example of why ‘the market’ is a dog of a system for production and distribution.

    I can understand why various actors (companies, individuals etc) want to generate or protect an income stream – they kind of have to in a market system.

    I can also see that the internet is a coach and horses riding straight through a host of market orientated expectations.

    That a desperate thrusting up or down of caltrops, roadblocks beside attempts to place cross-hairs on the driving team isn’t surprising. That some believe the circle can be squared… is.

    Imagine the internet without the pressure of market prerogatives bearing down on it? Go on. Now am I wrong to say that can only really come about when all production and distribution happens in a world where the market has been abolished?

    • mickysavage 3.1

      Agreed. We no longer have to worry about regional distribution. Content makers can have a netflix type arrangement so they can get paid. States and communities have to step up and fund the really important stuff. And these distribution monopolies are superfluous to requirements facing the same fate as the music CD.

      • Coffee Connoisseur 3.1.1

        and the jobs that go with the shift?

      • ghostwhowalksnz 3.1.2

        It ignores a few realities. Your idea of global distribution doesnt exist.

        Netflix has had to set up its own server farm in Australia before it even could offer local ( Australia and NZ )Service. ( yes small scale use was being run out of North America)

        Does this sound a lot like the biscuit business (regional plants serving local tastes and economic distribution) then it does.

        Its a big big difference in infrastructure terms to providing discreet page views like web pages to continuous HD service like movies/ TV.

      • Bill 3.1.3

        But if you’re still talking payments and funding (in a market economy context), then you’re essentially trying to square a circle. Payment implies trying to spin a profit and round and around we go as some try to generate and safeguard cash flow in a – um, difficult? – environment.

        Cut the Gordian Knot I say 😉

  4. dave 4

    I wouldn’t worry give them the two fingers and try this out
    http://popcorn-time.se/

  5. Philip Ferguson 5

    Yes, an interesting sign of how little capitalist companies really like free competition. And of how they run to get the ‘nanny state’ to protect their interests from their capitalist rivals.

    On capital and the state: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/capital-and-the-state/

  6. RedBaronCV 6

    What are they trying to protect – the profits made from broadcast – so they can live off the creators?
    Look at sport – some -NBA basketball springs to mind- are now offering internet fan tickets where they sell the right to watch the games of your choice streamed from their own camerawork. It doesn’t take any imagination to see most sport going this way to a virtual stadium. but they run the risk , over time , of losing fans who never get the taste of the game.
    So I can see them in the fullness of time offering content, maybe delayed to free to air to ensure they are creating new generations of fans.

    Creators of dramas and other shows would no doubt like the same model – a combination of direct profits to them + free to air. It’s the resellers that are complaining note.
    The best thing about the old free to air model as far as I was concerned , was somebody was paid to watch all the crap and pick the best stuff.
    And in the days when we had the NZBC we got the cheapest programmes as there was only one buyer in NZ. As for the existing companies – well a lot of them where only too pleased to use market models to shaft others – caveat emptor perhaps.

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    Global Mode Action: You Canute Be Serious

    If there’s anything immoral in this game, it’s that larger media aggregators trick companies like Lightbox, TVNZ, Sky and Mediaworks into paying through the nose for content knowing damn well New Zealanders can and will buy it for less from Netflix or another global brand.

    There’s no such thing as exclusive NZ rights in 2015.

    That pretty much sums it up I think.

    • Sable 7.1

      Big US media is all part of the Americanization of our lives and industry. We are a new banana republic of the fading US empire.

  8. Sable 8

    I really do not know what all the fuss is about. Its very easy to get a proxy. A lot of browsers include them. You could also sign up for relatively inexpensive paid services like UnoTelly that opens up a world of viewing.

    • weka 8.1

      Lots of people aren’t in the culture where using a proxy is easy or normal. They don’t know what they are, how they work, which they can trust, are they legal etc.

      I tried a proxy a few years ago to access some BBC content, and the BBC website knew I was using a proxy and would let me in. So, no, it’s not that straight forward.

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