Labour internet levy idea 'crazy and outrageous'

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 13:34, March 5 2014

A future Labour government could impose a levy on internet providers to help pay for locally-created digital content.

The idea, which was blasted by Telecom and Vodafone, was contained in a document that was accidentally emailed to Communications Minister Amy Adams by a Labour party staffer yesterday.

The five-page ’’ICT policy framework’’ outlined dozens of possible election initiatives, also including a ‘‘digital bill of rights’’ policed by the Human Rights Commission that would ‘‘guarantee a citizen privacy’’. It was drafted by Labour’s associate communications spokeswoman, Clare Curran, who said it was not official Labour policy.

The revenue-based levy on telecommunications carriers would create a contestable fund to pay for the ‘‘creation and accessible distribution of New Zealand digital content’’ and could be administered by NZ On Air and the Film Commission, Curran said.

The document did not say what size the fund might be.Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners described the proposed levy as ‘‘crazy and outrageous’’.

‘‘Labour should go the whole hog and nationalise everything,’’ he said.

‘‘The document also says multiple networks are wasteful. Why don’t we go for one network, one TV company, one bank, so there is no wastage, and then you can have as many levies as you want?’’

Telecom spokesman Andrew Pirie said Labour had not discussed the proposed levy with the company. Telecom already paid $25 million a year towards the Telecommunications Development Levy, which mainly funds the rural broadband initiative, he said.

‘‘We would certainly be concerned if there were additional costs imposed on internet providers, given it is a very competitive market out there,’’ he said.

Speaking to Fairfax prior to Labour’s accidental policy leak, Adams said National had a ‘‘very different approach to those sorts of issues’’.

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‘‘We expect content to meet some sort of commerciality test. If you are not putting out stuff people want to watch, you have got to question it.’’

However, National did believe support for local programming already provided through NZ On Air should be ‘‘platform agnostic’’, available for content broadcast on television or streamed over the internet, she said.

Labour’s digital policy framework also touted entitling people to a minimum amount of broadband bandwidth and ‘‘encrypted digital storage’’ which it said could be provided as ‘‘a benefit" to some. It suggested a review of New Zealand’s international connectivity and the ultrafast and rural broadband initiatives as well as strengthening the Commerce Commission.

 - © Fairfax NZ News

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