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Spreading the word

What a year: those tell-tale emails, the unbundling of our telecoms network, the rise and rise of YouTube and the disappointing iTunes store.

===The Emails===

It wasn't the first time that email had been at the centre of a hot political story, but there has probably never been a political story where there was so darn much of it.

Electronic correspondence spanning nearly two years underpins Nicky Hager's story of the Don Brash leadership, The Hollow Men. The National Party leader's sheer keenness at the keyboard was probably his undoing.

It wasn't exactly the "book of emails" that had gossip simmering for a month or two, but Hager's book did enough to provoke its own counter-story: the Big Cyber-Burglary. Pundits and politicians who wouldn't know an email header from the head on a beer queued up to declare that the book was evidence of a sordid electronic raid on the parliamentary email system.

There are a few things wrong with the cyber-burglary theory. It certainly couldn't have been conducted in one fell swoop, because Hager had access to (and passed on to other journalists) communications a year or more apart. It wasn't a cracking of the parliamentary email system - the most controversial message cited, from a member of the Exclusive Brethren, didn't pass through that system. And, basically, there just hasn't been any evidence that malicious hacking went on at all.

===Unbundled===

New Zealand led the world in deregulating its state telecommunications monopoly. Unfortunately, the world didn't follow. No other country has privatised its incumbent telephone company and left it in unmolested possession of its monopoly national network.

But 2006 was the year when the New Zealand Government finally bit the bullet and unbundled. The ensuing 2006 Telecommunications Amendment Act seems to be making up for lost time - not only will Telecom's copper network be unbundled, meaning other companies can gain access to compete against Tele_com, but also Telecom will be split into three separate operational units.

One element of the reforms to watch will be the mandate for so-called "naked DSL" - the ability for ISPs to sell you a broadband connection with no conventional voice line attached to it. That leaves the way clear for those providers to sell you new voice-over-IP services at better rates and with more features.

The question now is what sort of state the local internet is in as we embark on reform. Towards the end of this year, service failures at local internet providers gave the impression that the fabric of the consumer internet was unravelling.

===Do You YouTube? ===

At the beginning of 2006, no one was picking YouTube to revolutionise the way we use the internet, but by July it was delivering 100 million video clips a day, and 65,000 new clips were being uploaded by users. In October, the company, which had been operating online for all of 16 months, was sold to Google for $US1.65 billion in stock.

One effect of YouTube's rise to prominence was to make it a bigger target - especially for aggrieved copyright owners with handy lawyers. The Google sale only went through after YouTube signed agreements with major music companies to share their videos with permission. But the expected wave of copyright lawsuits aimed at Google's much larger piggybank has yet to materialise.

The US TV network CBS decided to go with the flow and upload its own clips to the site, as did the producers of our Eating Media Lunch (guys, we're still waiting for the al-Qaeda bloopers tape). As the year drew to a close, it emerged that the CBS, NBC, Fox and Viacom networks have been discussing starting their own YouTube-like service, presumably after their lawyers did their best to burn the real YouTube to the ground.

For now, most YouTube content is put there by individuals. And that includes the year's big hit, the Lonelygirl15 video_ blog, which had amassed around 20 million views before its creators emerged in response to speculation and admitted it was fictional. Bree, the solo star of the clips, was in fact young Kiwi actress Jessica Rose. Rose now has a real movie to her name, but the Lonelygirl15 story continues on YouTube in regular episodes.

===Was that it? ===

After well over a year's wait, New Zealand finally got its own iTunes Music Store, like those in a dozen other countries, including Australia. Unfortunately, it was inadequate. The new service launched in time for the pre-arranged round of press, but it clearly wasn't ready for primetime. There were gaps and glitches on pages, big chunks of catalogue missing and the "browse" function was broken, precluding the thing people want to do at any record store. Presumably, things will improve.

Email: russb@dubwise.co.nz