IIA welcomes Howard's $189 million Internet plan

The IIA's CEO Peter Coroneos has welcomed the Federal Government's plan to protect Australians online following prime minister John Howard's recent announcement of an $189 million plan to improve Internet safety by using filtering services to ISPs and providing free software for home use.

Called the Net Alert initiative, the majority of the funds will go toward providing free filtering software to be made available to every household in Australia. It was revealed $40 million of the funds will be allocated to the Federal Police to bolster its resources for tracking Internet predators.

The Net Alert initiative is seen as a response to the Labor opposition's proposal announced in March last year, which would put the onus on ISPs to filter nefarious Web content, such as pornography, bad language and other inappropriate content. By contrast the Liberal plan puts the choice of filtering content in the hands of the end user.

According to Peter Coroneos, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association (IIA), the government's new proposal will be well received. "We are definitely supportive of the government's provision of [software] filters, with the cost carried by the government, and the choice given to the end user. They don't have to implement it if they don't want to, it is completely voluntary," he said.

Under the proposal, ISP's will be required to provide filtered Internet content if the user is not confident or technically skilled enough to install the software themselves. "ISP backup filtering is not expected to be taken up by many people. It's fairly rudimentary -- a stopgap measure for people who are not technically skilled," Coroneos said.

He believes that the decision for the public will be an obvious one. "Once the public is aware of this, they will be going for client-side filtering. It offers more control, more customisation and less impact on the system," he said.

Coroneos believes that the government not ISPs will be delivering the filtering software direct to Australian families online. "The ISP's are not involved whatsoever [in regard to the delivery of the software]," he said.

Coroneos highlighted the fact that filters are no substitute for parental involvement and supervision of their children's online behaviour, a stance which the IIA makes clear in its official response. "We are currently conducting feasibility studies, and are also looking into how this service will be managed at an industry level". Coroneos said they were looking at an industry-wide solution. "We are concerned about the impact on smaller ISP's and how they will manage. Industry level support will take a lot of the pressure off them."

The IIA, when considering the two Internet protection schemes offered by the government and the Labor opposition, is currently favouring the government's proposal.

"The scaling of mandatory filtering proposed by the [Labor] opposition is potentially onerous on the industry, due to the amount of Internet traffic and the amount of users that would have to be filtered at the one time. It is a heavy-handed and unreasonable approach. It's a bit like what China is doing," Coroneos said.

"The opposition is currently offering no monetary support, although once they see the support offered [by the Federal government] we hope they will reform their proposal. However, we also fear that these might be unreasonable proposals given in an electoral environment. They might be offering more than what would usually be the case," he said.

Coroneos feared the environment would lead to an unreasonable 'bidding War' between the parties, with little support down the track.

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