[AusNOG] Happy new year / New rules for age-restricted internet and mobile content after the 20th of january 2008

Mark Newton newton at internode.com.au
Wed Jan 2 10:24:20 EST 2008

On 02/01/2008, at 9:10 AM, Alan Arnott wrote:

> We have been battling this issue in Australia for a number of years  
> and with the new Federal Labor Government it seems the battle is  
> still not over.


I'd like to see the industry take a progressively more aggressive  
to this issue.

It has been kicked around for nearly 20 years now, on and off.  The
Senate formed a Select Committee into online services provided by
BBSs in, what, 1990?  Here we are now in 2008 and they're still
banging on about it.

Every time the Government investigates this issue they hand down a
terribly-serious-sounding report about how much damage online content
can do to society.  With the benefit of nearly 20 years of hindsight, we
should all be able to see that those predictions have been dead wrong.
The children that the 1990 Select Committee were so concerned about
appear to have grown up into reasonably well-adjusted adults raising
reasonably well-adjusted families, and it's hard to see that several
decades of unrestricted access to unrestricted Internet content has had
any measurable impact on the health of society whatsoever.

And yet it continues to be an issue.  Year in, year out, politicians  
this issue, year in, year out they prognosticate about how awful the
situation is, and year in, year out they're completely and utterly wrong
about everything.

How wrong is someone allowed to be before people stop taking them

Meanwhile, some ISPs have invested considerable amounts of money
around "clean feed" Internet services, offering filtered services to  
members of the general public who feel the need to go down that path.
If the Government mandates "clean feed" services from all ISPs, those
businesses are going to have their business models eviscerated by
having it commoditized out from underneath them.  A niche player who
has built a name for themselves as a family-friendly venue is not going
to be able to compete with the big names when they're all serving the
same niche.  If I ran such an ISP, I'd be dead-set furious at the
Government's latest policy pronouncements.

Here are some constructive policy suggestions for the Government:

1.  The market has already provided clean-feed services.  If the
Government believes they're worthy of support, it should support them.
Repurpose the $220m NetAlert organization to apply ratings of "family
friendliness" to ISPs, in the same way that the Dept of Health applies
ratings to health insurance providers.  Use that as a vehicle to  
family-friendly options so that portions of the Australian marketplace
who desire such services know where to acquire them.  I'm sure the
existing clean-feed ISPs would be delighted to have marketing
assistance from the Federal Government, so support from at least one
segment of the industry should be too hard to find.

2.  If the Government seriously believes that more than a fraction of
1% of the Australian marketplace wants filtered Internet, it should
put its money where its mouth is and start a filtered ISP.  If it  
turns out
to be anywhere near as popular as they claim it'll be, it'll be  
profitable and they can privatize it five years later with accolades  
just about everyone.  If, on the other hand, it sinks like a stone into
financial oblivion, then the Government will have no further excuse to
continue their policy of willful denial about the desirability of what  
doing in this arena.   We in the marketplace already know how popular
this stuff is, but the Government has spent many years feigning  
Perhaps the solution is to invite them to become a market participant.

Filtering is, at root, a 1990's solution to a 1980's problem.  When  
was first proposed as a solution to inappropriate Internet content, most
Internet content was carried by FTP, HTTP and NNTP, all of which can
(with sufficient application of money and poor network design decisions)
theoretically be filtered.  (Theoretically.  I'll let the  
effectiveness of the UK
system speak for the practicalities -- does anyone seriously believe  
UK Internet users are ACTUALLY prevented from seeing whatever
they want to see on the Internet?  And if not, is it worth the money?)

Times have changed:  The overwhelming majority of content distributed
on the Internet in 2007 is carried by peer-to-peer networking
applications, which are inherently unfilterable.  Even if it were  
to build systems which would reliably block ACMA-banned websites,
the usefulness of doing so is limited in a world where an encrypted
BitTorrent client can deliver precisely the same content to anyone
who desires to view it, with or without filtering.  How much money is
Government and Industry expected to spend to implement a system
that cannot exert any impact whatsoever on the single most popular
method of Internet content distribution?  What, precisely, does the
Government hope to achieve?

Meanwhile:  Has anyone heard anything about the FOI request The
Age served on ACMA to find out the download stats for their
filtering package?   Alexa seems to think that linuxsa.org.au, a
specialist niche organization many of you have probably never heard
of, has about ten times the market penetration as NetAlert's heavily
marketed $82m filtering download site:

That was money well spent, eh?  I'm sure glad I pay tax, otherwise
I'd get fewer opportunities to point and laugh at such staggeringly
awe-inspiring displays of incompetent worthlessness, and the world
would be a far less entertaining place to live.

   - mark

Mark Newton                               Email:  newton at internode.com.au 
Network Engineer                          Email:   
newton at atdot.dotat.org  (H)
Internode Systems Pty Ltd                 Desk:   +61-8-82282999
"Network Man" - Anagram of "Mark Newton"  Mobile: +61-416-202-223

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