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Free Access for All: New Zealand’s Zero Data Programme

The New Zealand government has started a new programme called Zero Data, which aims to make sure critical online public information and services are freely available to all users of participating mobile networks in the country. This action is being taken to ensure that low-income people have access to essential government services by lowering the cost barrier of mobile data.

The Zero Data programme eliminates the cost of using mobile data while accessing certain public sector websites. Instead of the user being responsible for the cost of mobile data used to visit these sites, the participating government entities will be.

“Many New Zealanders, especially those with limited financial resources, rely solely on mobile devices like phones and tablets to connect to the internet and gain access to the world wide web’s wealth of information and services. However, mobile data isn’t free. Therefore, the price of mobile data can be prohibitive. Zero Data removes this barrier by providing free access to selected essential online public information and services for anyone,” according to the official website.

Anyone using a mobile device on a prepay or monthly plan with the operator network participating in the programme can use the Zero Data service. However, the service is unavailable if the user’s device is in global roaming mode, accessing the internet through a non-participating provider, or using fibre optics. To utilise the service, customers must have a mobile phone or tablet linked to a supported mobile network and have their mobile data enabled.

Then, they can look up the agencies participating in the Zero Data initiative on its website. The Ministry of Education, the Department of Internal Affairs, Health New Zealand, Homes & Communities, the Ministry of Justice, the Accident Compensation Corporation, and the Ministry of Social Development are some government sites now participating in the Zero Data programme.

Regarding personal data usage, users’ IP addresses are logged when they access the Zero Data service. But other than that, no personally identifying information is gathered or retained. While the user’s IP address and browser type (among further purely technical details) will be recorded, no other information that could be used to identify the user’s identity will be stored alongside it.

IP addresses are personally identifying information, although in this case, merely recording the address is not sufficient to identify a specific user. The service is not designed to perform device fingerprinting that would allow a particular device or user to be identified. Following the Public Records Act of 2005, the proxy will not store or keep track of any user credentials.

New Zealand’s dedication to closing the digital gap and providing universal access to cutting-edge communication services is reflected in its substantial investments in several schemes designed to boost connectivity across the country. A mobile network operator has just delivered roughly 400 government-funded cell towers, marking another significant milestone for the government in its effort to improve connectivity for rural and isolated families and enterprises.

The government’s Rural Broadband Initiative, which is funding the towers, has been instrumental in expanding broadband and mobile coverage to New Zealand’s rural and isolated areas. As of the end of 2022, almost 1,211 kilometres of State Highway have cell coverage thanks to government connectivity efforts. Additionally, mobile coverage is available at 114 tourist hotspots, broadband has been extended to more than 600 maraes, and improved broadband is now available to roughly 80,000 homes and businesses in rural areas.


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