New Zealand is a small, English-speaking nation in the South Pacific. It relies on exporting goods and services to maintain its standard of living, but is physically remote from its markets.
Recent New Zealand Government policy has centred around: reduction of public expenditure; removal of barriers to imports; deregulation and privatisation of utilities; labour market deregulation; and targetting state assistance to only those who cannot provide for themselves.
These policies have led to a highly competitive environment in which local industries have been forced to compete with overseas suppliers without subsidies or a protected local market. In particular, the New Zealand telecommunications market is now very competitive with high quality services available.
The Internet arrived in New Zealand into this climate. From its introduction it was clear that the government would not fund it, and that users would be expected to pay providers, operating in a competitive market.
New Zealand Internet users pay by the megabyte for traffic that leaves or enters the country. This does not appear to have hindered the uptake of the Internet in New Zealand. Internet penetration is very high compared with other countries when measured against GDP and population.
Internet providers in New Zealand compete for customers, on the basis of price, quality and type of service. Net users compile FAQs of charges incurred by various idealised users through each provider.
As in other countries, Internet is increasingly being used by businesses. This is especially relevant to New Zealand because the Internet helps overcome the barrier of remoteness from our markets and suppliers.
The Government's policy response so far has been to maintain an environment of competition, preventing a player from "capturing" any specific part of the New Zealand net.
The social policy impact relates to the content of the Internet.
Since New Zealand has no land borders it has grown used to having the ability to control goods and information entering and leaving the country. While such control is liberal by international standards, the Customs Department can, for instance, seize pornography as it arrives. Internet erodes this ability which has led to calls for its regulation.
Most public Internet access services in New Zealand refuse to accept the alt.sex hierarchy. This does not guarantee that other news groups do not contain objectionable material. Also anyone with full internet access can read material from news servers or ftp sites overseas.
In response to the calls for control of information access the options range from to requiring individual responsibility or to cutting off the Internet altogether. Obviously, the widespread commercial use of the net means that such an extreme measure would damage New Zealand's trading position.
In New Zealand, as in other countries, there is diversity of opinion on the merits of government control of resources against a user driven approach. Some people, when shown the Net, say that a central gateway should be constructed so that all non-New Zealanders accessing addresses in or information about New Zealand go through a single "home page". This is argued for in terms such as "managing New Zealand's image" and "presenting an image of quality to the world".
While such a measure might be desirable to those who are used to controlling information access, it misses the point of the Net. Indeed, such a move would crush the individual creativity which has driven the Net's expansion.
Possibly the reason the Net exists today is that its technical structure does not easily permit central control.
In a functioning democracy such as New Zealand, government policies can be expected to reflect the views of many citizens. The Internet empowers individuals by allowing them to exchange information freely, challenging them to reassess the extent to which they require government to manage their lives. In New Zealand the influence of government in people's lives has been reduced over the last decade, the likely long term impact of the Internet is that this reduction will continue.