Unfair Contract Terms - are you ready?

 

This week the Commerce Commission published its final Unfair Contract Terms Guidelines and its approach to enforcing the new unfair contract terms law when it takes effect next month.  This relates to clauses in standard form consumer contracts where the terms have been offered to the consumer on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, and the contracts relate to goods and services that are usually for personal use. 

Unfair contract terms will be prohibited in all standard form consumer contracts entered into on or after 17 March 2015, and also in those contracts (except insurance contracts) that are renewed or varied on or after that date. 

The unfair contract terms provisions allow the Commission to seek a declaration from a court that a term in a standard form consumer contract is unfair. While only the Commission can apply for a declaration, any person may file a complaint with the Commission on any contract.
Generally speaking the court may declare a term unfair if it is satisfied that the term causes a significant imbalance in the party's rights and obligations and isn't necessary to protect the legitimate interests of one of the parties.

The Commerce Commission guidelines issued this week are intended to help businesses comply with the law.  Businesses have been given 15 months warning to give them time to prepare for them and its now important you note there is no grace period and from the 17th March the Commission will be enforcing the new laws.  In fact they have stated their initial focus will be on industries commonly falling into the categories including telecommunications, rental cars, fitness, airline and online trading.

The Commission issued draft consultation guidelines in July last year and received approximately 30 submissions back. The guidelines have now been finalised and are available on the Commission’s website.  

A fact sheet for consumers that will enable them to identify unfair contract terms is also being developed and will be released shortly.

 

GUEST BLOG : Broadband as part of the bigger Infrastructure picture

This post is a guest blog from Bill Bennett, Freelance Journalist

Broadband rarely gets discussed in the wider context of national infrastructure.

Yet the government-sponsored Ultrafast Broadband project and the Rural Broadband Initiative are just two of a series of major infrastructure projects transforming New Zealand cities.

To engineers there are two types of infrastructure. Vertical infrastructure means buildings while horizontal infrastructure means roads, railways, cycle tracks, water systems and communications networks.

Infrastructure makes cities liveable

Both kinds of infrastructure make places liveable. They underpin economic development.

In December Aecom New Zealand managing director John Bridgman gave me an insight into another way infrastructure investment is important when I interviewed him for the New Zealand Herald.

Bridgman talked about Auckland, but his comments apply just as much to other New Zealand cities.

Auckland ranks ten

He says the Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Auckland as number ten when it comes to the world's most liveable cities.

The survey leaves out Wellington and Christchurch because it only applies to the world's 140 largest cities. Even so, the ideas are relevant across the country.

On one level, the EIU liveable city index is just a set of numbers, an accounting exercise. We shouldn't take it too seriously or read too much into the numbers.

That doesn't mean it isn't useful or important.

Liveable means investment

Cities that rank high in the EIU index attract high quality investment. They are magnets to the brightest and most dynamic immigrants. They are places people want to visit and where they are keen to do business.

Getting on the top ten list is an achievement. Staying there is helpful. Bridgman wants us to move up the list.

Building fast broadband networks throughout New Zealand will move us closer to that goal.

To rank cities the EIU looks at 30 measures in categories such as culture and healthcare. Infrastructure is one category.

Not perfect, not far off

Each category is marked out of 100. A perfect city would be 100. The scores are crunched to get a single number. Auckland's score is 95.7. Melbourne is in top place on 97.5.

A 92.9 score for infrastructure drags down Auckland's total. If we can nudge that figure up Auckland would move from the top 10 to the top five.

In turn that would mean more high quality investment, immigrants and business opportunities.

Infrastructure is an interesting category when it comes to determining whether a city is liveable because the people already living in a city can do something about it.

Improving liveability

It's near impossible to improve a city's culture in the short-term. No-one can do much about the geographic setting once a city is founded. All the top cities are stable, safe and offer first class education, so there's little room to move on those areas.

When assessing infrastructure the EIU looks at the quality of their road, public transport and telecommunications networks along with the international links. It also looks at the availability of good quality housing, energy and water.

Anyone familiar with Auckland knows our recent-year report for all those sub-categories is could-do-better.

The good news is that each area is being addressed. The Western Ring Road is not far from completion. Planning is under way for boosting the road network east of the city. There's been a major water system upgrade.

Work to be done

There's still work to be done building more good quality houses. Auckland's electricity grid has been an embarrassment in the past, but things are changing. The next few years should see work begin expanding the rail network through the city. Other public transport projects are underway. They city is getting bike lanes.

And then there's the broadband upgrade. At first sight it seems almost an afterthought.

Running fibre to every home and business in Auckland might add a few tenths of a point to the liveable city index score.

Where Australia lags

That might not seem much. Yet there are four Australian cities — Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide — ahead of Auckland in the EIU list. None of them will have full fibre to the premises networks soon.

Auckland will have its FTTP in place by the end of 2019.

Only 1.8 points separate Auckland from top ranked Melbourne. Auckland is only 0.2 behind Perth and 0.4 behind Sydney.

UFB

Finishing the UFB could push Auckland up two or three spots on the liveable city index. That alone gets us closer to the prize money. It's an option Australia has rejected.

If those EIU numbers seem a little too dull and abstract to make sense, think of athletics. For an Olympic runner trimming two-tenths of a second can be the difference between a gold and a bronze medal.

As already mentioned, it's important not to get too wrapped up in the details of one Liveable City Index. At best its criteria are debatable and there are other indexes that rank Auckland better or worse than the EIU.

Yet we can read the EIU index as a list of the work in front of New Zealand as we build a 21st century economy.

When the rest of the world catches up and builds fibre-to-the-premises networks, fast broadband will be a hygiene factor just like every other form of infrastructure. That is, something citizens expect and take for granted, something that will make them unhappy if it isn't provided.

By then we'll have something else to build to keep us out in front.

You can find this blog and other comments on Bill's website at: www.billbennett.co.nz

GUEST BLOG : The Content Revolution

This post is a guest blog from Andrew Cushen, Work Programme Director at Internet NZ. 

The Internet has the potential to completely change the model for content distribution here in New Zealand. Content could be one of the "killer apps" encouraging New Zealanders to take advantage of the improved connectivity options available thanks to the UFB rollout. High speed Internet can provide more content, at lower prices, with more choice and flexibility than ever before. Internet delivery of content also completely changes the dynamics of competition in the content market, lowering the barriers to entry and allowing more providers to provide content that may have been uneconomic previously.

In other words, content delivery is one of the pieces of promoting the benefits and uses of the Internet and protecting its potential. We would love to see a more vibrant and competitive market emerge for content in New Zealand, and the Internet infrastructure investments through the likes of the UFB are a big enabler of that. It's for this reason that when Internet NZ thought up our predictions for 2015, we said that big changes are likely in this area.

So; where are we at with this predicted revolution?

For a start, we've seen the market grow in terms of providers. Neon, Sky's online service, launched just recently. Netflix is apparently around the corner - just this morning it was announced that Fetch TV from Australia is expanding to New Zealand and bringing NetFlix with it; LightBox, QuickFlix and Coliseum are already here, there are also thousands of New Zealanders using Global Mode services to access international offerings. New Zealanders are increasingly spoilt for choice. Yes, it's messy - but it's also early in the evolution of this market, and the Internet has made it possible for all of these services to exist. It's more conceivable now to think of this being just the start of a plethora of Internet-enabled content options, offering everything from Hollywood blockbusters to your kids' school play. That's awesome.

We’ve already seen this revolution occur in the music market. When MP3s became the option of choice and people were using Napster to download them illegally, the music industry screamed blue murder and said this was the end. But necessity bred innovation and first we had iTunes offering a method to buy music piecemeal – singles for just over $1 – and then streaming services like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio created an even easier model. All you can eat for a fixed price per month.

Now we’re seeing a similar change in the traditional TV market. Sky has announced that they're "unbundling" their conventionally distributed content. This means that if you're only into sport, there are now options for you to just buy access to some of the sport you want, rather than making a far larger commitment in both time and money to a bundle of other channels that you didn't necessarily want. This is a direct response to some of the Internet-led changes above, and a great example of how the traditional content market is loosening up thanks to the competitive pressures created by the Internet.

Thirdly, New Zealand law has some catch up to do. Online content faces classification challenges that simply aren't the same as those that traditional broadcasters face. This slows down innovation in online content, and increases the costs and therefore the barriers to entry in providing services. That's a shame - luckily, the Minister has said she is onto it, as you can see here: http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/minister-takes-aim-outdated-censorship-laws-cg-168651.  And InternetNZ is talking with the Office for Film and Literature Classification about working with them in 2015 to understand what classification really means in the Internet era. 

 You can see more of the InternetNZ blog at their website here.

 

 

Whanganui is Inspire'd

Last time I stayed in Whanganui, the host at the motel I stayed at was interested as to why I was there - as he said, Whanganui is a destination.  Its not on the main highway north so you have to choose to stop there,  but usually because you're heading to do something up country.  But Whanganui has been making a name for itself over the last few years through it embracing its digital future, and the build of the ultrafast networks in the city.

The District Council has got right behind the push to make use of these new networks, and they haven't been sitting still.  They have for the third year in a row been announced as a SMART 21 Community by the Intelligent Community Forum (see here), the only city in New Zealand to apply and make the grade.

The Council also took the lead in developing a free WIFI network in the central city as well and in recent years InspireNet took over running that network - now part of the aptly named InspireFreeWifi service.  The most interesting recent news about this service is that until December last year there was a 100 Mbytes limit per device per month on the free service, but they have recently upped that to 1,000 Mbytes per device per month to cope with users general day to day needs for email and social media as they move about away from home or work.  InspireNet also offers paid plans which start at 5,000 Mbytes per device per month for $10 per month.

The Inspirenetfreewifi network isn't only in Whanganui though - it covers a number of lower North Island towns with about 500 Wifi nodes in place.  Its just another example of a committed regional ISP looking at how they can work with their local communities.

But Whanganui and InspireNet haven't finished yet - I'm told there's more to come so we'll keep on eye on them.