NZ telcos wince as they foot bill for more UFB

One of the National Party’s election promises was to extend the government’s Ultrafast Broadband network. Originally the plan was to spend $1.5 billion to cover 75 percent of the population living in cities and towns. Now the government aims to spend another $150 million to $200 million reaching an extra 200,000 people for a total of 80 percent of the population.

It’s a good idea and solves the problem of connecting people living in medium-sized places not reached by the earlier UFB plan or the Rural Broadband Initiative.

Government isn’t planning to use taxpayer funds for the extension. Instead it will extend the Telecommunications Development Levy for three more years.

Although the name suggests otherwise, the TDL is effectively an extra tax on telecommunications companies. They collectively pay $50 million a year into a fund to pay for the RBI. It replaces an earlier levy collected to compensate Telecom NZ (now Spark) for maintaining a universal telephone network reaching rural customers that would have been commercially unprofitable to serve.

The Commerce Commission gets to decide how much each telco pays into the levy based on calculations about their relative market share. Chorus, which isn’t a retail telco, also pays into the fund.

In some ways the fund is an unfair imposition on telcos. New Zealand’s carriers have faced falling revenues in recent years as competition bites. The effect of earlier government imposed regulations also eat into their margins.

At the same time, New Zealand’s telcos are losing revenues to giant multinationals like Google and Apple. These companies offer so-called over-the-top services that let people make calls or send messages bypassing traditional carrier networks.

There are a number of ironies here. While Google and Apple make a lot of money in New Zealand, they barely pay any taxes. Like many multinationals they claim their local sales are actually made elsewhere — usually Ireland. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s telcos do all their business here and have little opportunity to transfer sales to more favourable tax regimes.

So, in effect,we tax telcos twice while the competitors who are eating their lunch are barely taxed at all.

One proposal would be to compel companies like Google and Apple to contribute to the TDL. There’s a good case to make for this although because they don’t charge for telecommunications services, as such, it would be difficult to fix a fair sum.

It’s worth keeping in mind that should Google or Apple be taxed on New Zealand sales to the same extent as the telcos the extra revenue would be greater than the amount raised by the TDL.

New Zealand’s government doesn’t have the clout to unilaterally change the way large multinationals shuffle money between countries to avoid taxes. If they paid up we could afford to extend the UFB network and pay for other essential services. That’s not going to happen, but it might be an idea to put some of our best brains on to finding ways to squeeze them for TDL contributions.

Five must have free business apps for any device

Whether you use a smartphone, tablet, PC or all three here are five apps to give your business an immediate productivity boost. All are available for Windows, OS X, iOS and Android:

OneNote: Microsoft’s excellent note-taking app was an overlooked jewel for a decade. Now it is free.

OneNote looks and works like a paper notebook. You can use it to save all kinds of data: text, audio, pictures and video. It’s unstructured, you simply clip items and drop them anywhere on a OneNote page.

Once you’ve saved material you can organise your hoard in pages, sections and notebooks. Best of all you can sync notebooks across your devices, so you can find that essential piece of information on your phone when away from your desk.

Dropbox: There are many ways you can save files in the cloud. Dropbox is simple, reliable and completely independent of hardware or operating system brands. Store a file in Dropbox and it is immediately available wherever you have an internet connection. Many also use it to back up data.

Wunderlist: Dozens of apps aim to replace writing to-do lists on scraps of paper. Wunderlist scores as the best because it stays simple while adding enough extra functions to keep you on your toes. You can prioritise tasks, give yourself timed reminders and set up recurring items.

Pocket: Seen something worth reading online, but don’t have time to finish it now? Send a link to Pocket and read it later. it’s a great way to head off distraction when working I also use it when I see something on my phone, but the print is too small to read. A quick clip to Pocket means I can view it later on a bigger screen.

Skype: Plenty of alternatives products do voice or video calls and provide messaging services. I find Apple’s FaceTime works best when there’s decent connection at both ends. However, nothing works reliably across as many devices and operating systems as Microsoft’s Skype. You can chat, swap files, send txt messages and even call conventional phone lines.