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7th April 1997
A voice for Net users?
Last week's article about the need to protect consumers from Web-designer-cowboys generated some interesting feedback with several people raising the reasonable concern that perhaps a group of Web-designer professionals might become somewhat self-serving in the role of "policeman" to the industry.

Coincidentally, this week I saw a proposal that the NetSoc (The Network Society of NZ) newsgroup nz.org.net-society be removed. NetSoc is/was a group formed several years ago to educate the public about the real issues behind Trevor Rogers proposed private member's bill seeking to impose harsh restrictions and penalties on Net-based content. Since then ISOCNZ has been formed and one of its roles should be to pick up the cudgel in this area - which admittedly appears to leave NetSoc somewhat without purpose.

Indeed - NetSoc has effectively existed in name only since the threat of Rogers' bill was defused - hence the call for the removal of its newsgroup - which has seen virtually zero traffic in the past 12 months.

Until of course you consider that there is a huge demand for information from the Internet market NETSOC was formed with the goal of representing and educating Net users.

Perhaps we can revive NetSoc as a method of providing Net users, both commercial and recreational, with the information they need to make informed decisions.

NetSoc may also be a better organ for providing every-day Net users with some form of joint voice. ISOCNZ appears to be extremely busy dealing with the issues of the industry rather than those of the users and commonsense indicates that the two may sometimes result in conflict - perhaps further endorsing the value of having a separate body.

The need for an independent "user" body was also supported by David Farrar who suggests that a name change might the in order if NetSoc was to be pressed into this role.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything develops.

An email address for the Itinerant
As an increasing number of Net users play the ISP-shuffle, changing service providers as their own specific requirements vary, the new "Home 'n' Work" service announced last week by NetRegistry may find a welcome audience.

To date, one of the hassles with changing Internet service providers has been the need to also change your email address - and advise all those with who you exchange emails of the fact.

While this problem doesn't affect those who have their own domain name, the vast majority of Net users in New Zealand have an email address which uses their ISPs domain name and which therefore can't be kept if they change suppliers.

While this type of service is not new, to date, most New Zealand Net users have had to go off-shore to sites such as pobox.com, to obtain a "virtual mailbox" which has also meant that their local (sent from within NZ) email has had to travel an extra 30,000Kms or so. While Internet email is generally very reliable, adding extra jumps does increase the potential for lost messages and delays.

The NetRegistry service offers the catchy domain names @home.net.nz and @work.net.nz, making the service well suited to those who want to keep their business email separate from their personal email.

Observers agree that one of the few proven profitable activities on the Net at this time is the provision of "value-add" services such as virtual-mailboxes and as a result, we can expect to see a growth in the number and variety of such products.

@home or @work?
Beware.. NZ On Air
New Zealand On (wh)Air?
It has now been a couple of weeks since RNZ's site oozed onto the Web amidst yawns and ho-hums from the industry. NZ On Air didn't contribute a single cent to the site's development or deployment and perhaps that's one of the reasons that it's a bit "rough around the edges" - good Web design doesn't come cheap.

This begs the question: "Why aren't NZ on Air funding programme content development for Internet broadcasting?

Given the "quality" and public acceptance of a few other NZOA funded programmes broadcast on traditional media (is The Footy Show one of them?), one has to wonder whether they might not be better off investing some of this money in fostering some quality home-grown Net content. Perhaps those in the traditional broadcasting media have their hooks so firmly sunk into NZOA that they're able to dictate who gets funding and who doesn't. Given that many of the old-school broadcasters obviously consider the Net to be a major threat to their own industries, it would be argued that it's obvious why NZOA considers the Net to be ineligible for funding.

I don't know which dictionary definition NZOA are using to define "broadcasting" but I prefer the one which says "to make known to many". If the stats we're fed about Net access in NZ are to be believed, there are 100K NZers with Net access and nearly 600K of us have accessed the Net in the past 12 months. If that's not "many", I don't know what is. I also suspect that the cost of dropping the RNZ audio into the Web site is pretty minimal so a year's worth of funding for the RNZ site wouldn't cost as much as a single episode of a locally produced TV programme.

Visiting the NZ On Air Web site, I found a page which I believe would qualify the RNZ site for funding. Surely placing RNZ content on the Web represents extending transmission coverage?

By my readings, the statutory functions of NZOA include:

  • 36.(b) To maintain and, where the Commission considers that it is appropriate, extend the coverage of television and sound radio broadcasting to New Zealand communities that would otherwise not receive a commercially viable signal
which clearly gives NZ On Air adequate scope to fund the RNZ Web site if the choose to, since no NatRad transmitter is able to reach ex-pat communities of NZers in other countries such as Europe and the USA. In fact - are NZ On Air in breach of their obligations under the act by not funding such Net-based activities?

Ultimately I suspect the response will be "there's no license fee payable for Net access so there's no requirement for NZOA to fund any Net activities". Fair enough I guess - but how long is it going to stay that way?

Already a number of the mainstream US TV channels are broadcasting their content "live" over the Web with at least one local organisation planning a similar albeit less ambitious service. You can also buy TV Tuner/video cards for your PC that let you watch TV on your PC's screen. If live Web-video takes off in NZ (and after reading last week's Aardvark you'd better hope it doesn't), will NZOA seek to place a levy on all PCs or modems sold - on the premise that it can now be used as a TV receiver?

Who reads Aardvark Weekly?
Those of you who are wondering whether Aardvark is widely read might want to check out this story carried by Ziff Davis's AnchorDesk site on Friday (Saturday NZ time) of last week. Pure coincidence that it's pretty much the theme of last week's Aardvark Weekly?

I Can't Believe It's True!
While researching for this week's Aardvark I dropped into www.govt.nz, (normally a very useful resource) and tried out their search engine. Look what I got when I asked for info on "New Zealand On Air".

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