Government still working on details of data retention funding

Time running out for ISPs and telcos to submit their data retention implementation plans

A government scheme to offset the cost to telcos of implementing their data retention obligations is still a work in progress.

This year's federal budget earmarked financial assistance totalling $131.3 million over three years to help the telecommunications industry with the capital costs of implementing their data retention obligations.

"The government is currently developing details of a grants program that will take into account factors recommended by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security," said a spokesperson for the Attorney-General's Department.

"In particular, the program will be designed to ensure that a fair portion of the funding is made available to smaller providers.

"The department has actively engaged in consultations with industry representatives regarding data retention legislation implementation."

The government has previously indicated grants guidelines will be released in time for initial payments to be made during the 2015-16 financial year.

The level of funding on the table for telcos and ISPs falls short of the estimated capital costs to industry of complying with data retention of between $188.8 million and $319.1 million.

An FAQ document (PDF) produced by the Attorney-General's Department merely states in regards to funding:

The Attorney-General’s Department engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to cost the implementation of the proposed data retention regime in consultation with industry. PwC estimated the upfront capital cost of the regime to all of business to be between $188.8 million and $319.1 million. This estimate has helped inform the Australian Government in delivering on its commitment to make a reasonable contribution to the upfront capital costs of data retention. The Budget includes funding of $128.4 million available to affected businesses over three years.

The lack of detail on funding has been a source of concern among industry.

Data retention obligations for telecommunications service providers begin on 13 October.

However, service providers are able to apply to the Attorney-General Department's Communications Access Coordinator for an 18-month extension to enable them to comply.

In that case, service providers are required to provide a data retention implementation plan (DRIP) that explains how they will achieve compliance by 13 April 2017.

The Attorney-General Department's FAQ also notes that service providers can apply for "an exemption from and/or variation of their data retention obligations in relation to a service they provide."

The deadline for submitting a DRIP is August 13.

“I have publicly [at the 2015 ACOMM Awards] asked for reassurance from government that any [carrier/carriage service provider] that is genuinely trying to complete its DRIP in the six months after 13 October will not face penalty or prosecution," said Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton in a statement provided to Computerworld

"This view has been communicated to government."

Andrew Yager, CEO of wholesale network aggregator Real World Group, has recently launched a website that offers data retention compliance advice to service providers.

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