New Zealand – Green Party Pushes for Open WiFi Internet and End to Software Patents

It seems that one political party in New Zealand has some bold plans for the future of New Zealand’s technology sector.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There’s an interesting report over on Stuff which suggests that one of the political parties of New Zealand, namely the Green Party, is pushing for bold plans for New Zealand’s technological future. The policy as released by MP Metiria Turei says that, among other things, it would exclude software from the patent process and investigate the possibility of a free municipally owned wireless network.

The report suggests that this move follows up an earlier move to get government desktop computers moved over from Microsoft’s Windows to open sourced solution Linux. From the report:

Centre systems manager Jason Horncy says it is “very satisfied” with its decision in 2003 to install Linux on the 120 desktop PCs in its 25 regional offices and on most PCs in its head office. It previously used Microsoft Windows on its desktops but moved all its main systems, including servers, to open source software at the same time.

The fact that the latest policy calls for a greater expansion on the use of open source seems to highlight another positive news story for the open content community. Last week, the open content community in the United States effectively won, at this point, a key legal battle which makes open “artistic licenses” like GPL and Creative Commons subject to copyright law. The more open source is adopted, the better for the open source community.

This isn’t the first positive move out of New Zealand. When New Zealand reformed it’s copyright laws, some, at first, thought the country caved to US copyright industry pressure. However, a closer look revealed that while some aspects are distasteful, it also demonstrated generally acceptable flexibility when it comes to Digital Rights Management (DRM).

This certainly makes it easy to be excited over what could be in store for the people of New Zealand, but the idea of an open WiFi network (should the government try for city-wide WiFi) has been attempted a couple of times without success. In the United States (specifically Portland), a company called MetroFi attempted to set up a city-wide WiFi network. Unfortunately, the network failed to reach completion due to money related issues. Attempts to sell the network also failed and the city may end up spending $60,000 to remove. In Canada, in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, there were plans to set up a city-wide WiFi network, but the last news bit was back at the beginning of 2007 where Vancouver police said it would attract global crime. There hasn’t been any developments on the subject, that we are aware of, since. If New Zealand is successful, they may be the first to implement such an undertaking successfully, but previous attempts elsewhere suggest that it may not happen.

As for software patents, the history of software patents is complicated. There’s very good reason to exclude software from patents. The EFF’s Patent Busting project has some great examples of why software shouldn’t be included in the patent system. Some of these examples: patent on VoIP, patent for online gaming and the patent on encoding digital music.

While there are great examples that justify the idea of excluding software from the patent system, there is probably already a good deterrent to keep software out of the patent system already. Typically, a patent involves submitting information on how such a thing works. Since most commercial companies aren’t willing to give up the source code, software is usually copyrighted and not patented because copyright doesn’t require details on how it works to be submitted.

The Green party, judging by the report, is mainly interested in ending monopolies. Of course, it points to Microsoft as a great example of this. If this is what the Green party intends to do, it is easy to understand why they want to make such bold moves. ISPs have notoriously held on to a comfortable oligopoly in many countries. Patents are specifically designed to give certain people or companies a monopoly over an idea. Windows Operating Systems are overwhelmingly dominant in the Operating System industry.

While it may be difficult to actually follow through on these bold plans, there are no doubt plenty who wish them the best of luck regardless.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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