ISPs will absorb the cost for the federal government’s mandatory filtering regime and face large fines for non-compliance. Announced by communications minister Stephen Conroy, the federal government plans to introduce legislative amendments requiring ISPs to block Refused Classification content at their own expense – and will offer grants to ISPs which enable blocks on “additional” content such as X18+ material or online gambling.
ISPs will be required to pay for the installation and maintenance of filter hardware for a mandatory filter service, with the threat of $27,500 fines per day for non-compliance. The federal government plans to introduce legislative amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act requiring mandatory filtering in 2010, and “ISPs will be required to begin filtering within 12 months of the passage of the legislation,” according to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
On top of the costs incurred for filter hardware, ISPs may also be forced to pay for additional network capacity to handle peak loads. A report by Enex TestLab recommended ISPs account for “very high traffic sites” like YouTube, which “could cause additional load on the filtering infrastructure and subsequent performance bottlenecks. To support peaks in traffic, vendors recommend allowing additional network capacity of approximately four times the estimated traffic at the filter.”
A spokesman for Telstra told CommsDay the costs of implementing the system were as-yet unknown. “It’s still too early to know what the final picture is going to be and what we will need to implement to comply with the law so we have not fully assessed likely costs,” he said. Optus government and corporate affairs director Maha Krishnapillai said Optus had not costed the rollout of filters, but added: “it makes sense for us to have some sort of filtering regime anyway… we’re happy to wear that cost.”
Telstra, Optus, Primus and iiNet issued statements of support for the policy, and Conroy thanked the ISPs for “constructive input” into its development. “These companies came forward to help inform the government’s approach. Between them these ISPs account for more than 80% of internet users in Australia,” he said.
Internode, which did not take part in the filter trials, responded: “They’re the government, they regulate the industry, we’re bound by that, we’ll obey the law. If they tell us we’ll filter the internet, we’ll filter the internet,” carrier relations manager John Lindsay told CommsDay.
The Department, along with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, will soon begin talks with operators regarding the implementation of the policy as well as reviewing and updating industry codes dealing with online content.
Conroy announced a three part “cyber safety” plan, including:
• The introduction of mandatory ISP-level filtering of Refused Classification content
• A grants program “to encourage the introduction of optional filtering” for ISPs which would block con-
tent such as X18+ and gambling (at a user’s request)
• Expanding ACMA the cyber-safety outreach program and the Cyber-Safety Online Helpline “to improve
education and awareness of online safety.”
In an effort to make the mandatory filter regime transparent, the government has also released a discussion paper on accountability and transparency of the RC blacklist, considering appeal mechanisms for blocked pages, notification to website owners if they are found to be hosting RC content, and an independent review system which would report to federal Parliament.
The RC list will be complied through public complaints. According to a statement from Conroy, RC-rated material includes “child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence including rape, and the detailed instruction of crime or drug use.”
ONLINE GAMES UNDER THREAT: The policy may also block online games pending the outcome of a public consultation on the introduction of an R18+ rating for games. Australia currently only allows for computer games to carry a maximum MA15+ rating, meaning all games above MA15+ are refused classification. The consultation was announced by this week, and “until this process is complete, online computer games will be excluded from mandatory filtering of RC content,” a statement said.