InternetNZ has flagged a pressing need to consider a more converged regulatory regime for telecommunications and broadcasting, in view of the extensive overlap between the technology and uses of the two media.

The internet body has issued a document to kick off discussion on the question and suggests that it focus on four broad options:

  • Make no change to the current regimes in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts;
  • Empower the Commerce Commission to "study and review the relevant markets", but with no power to suggest specific regulations.
  • Allow the Commission also to propose regulation to the relevant minister(s); or
  • Comprehensively rewrite the legislative framework to integrate communications and broadcasting under a single framework. This will involve a "fundamental rewrite" of the Telecommunications Act to turn it into a converged Communications Act.

InternetNZ's perspective is defined by its "policy principles and vision of an open and uncaptureable internet, and a strong commitment to the gains consumers make from open, competitive markets," says the paper. It wants to confine discussion to market and competition questions "and the pressures on the status quo that convergence creates", without considering restrictions on content, cultural questions, favouring of local material or supposed public rights to free broadcasting of key sporting and cultural events.

A "digital review of broadcasting regulation" was conducted in 2007-8 under the auspices of the Labour-led government's Ministry of Culture and Heritage, but was not pursued by the National-led government. The volume one and volume two of the final report still exists online but InternetNZ points out that the market has significantly evolved even since that date.

A number of newly topical issues now influence the question of convergence; these include the current Commerce Commission inquiry into SkyTV's role in the market, ISPs' reselling of Sky services and the emergence of the Igloo joint venture between Sky and TVNZ. The absence of "over-the-top" content providers such as Netflix is a distinctive feature of the local market, says InternetNZ.

The discussion document summarises the different solutions adopted in various overseas jurisdictions, such as the UK, which has a converged regulatory body, Ofcom, and Australia, whose Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has partial responsibility for both media.

A Convergence Review commissioned by the Australian government reported back earlier this year, recommending the creation of a new converged regulator, replacing ACMA and assuming responsibility for media ownership, content standards and broadcasting regulation.

One of a series of focus questions, scattered through the text of the InternetNZ discussion document, asks what points from overseas regimes might beneficially be adopted in devising a policy for NZ.

"We welcome comments and feedback from everyone interested in this subject," says InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar. "We will incorporate these comments and the results of the Commerce Commission's [SkyTV] investigation into an updated paper, probably in the first quarter of 2013."

The discussion document can be read here.