Internet filtering pilot announced: Six ISPs on board

Some of Australia's largest ISPs missing from the first phase

Six ISPs will participate in the first phase of the Federal Government’s plan to introduce mandatory filtering of Australia’s Internet feed

Six ISPs will participate in the first phase of the Federal Government’s plan to introduce mandatory filtering of Australia’s Internet feed

Communications minister, Stephen Conroy, has announced six ISPs will participate in the first phase of the Federal Government’s controversial plan to introduce mandatory filtering of Australia’s Internet feed.

The ISPs involved in the first phase of the live pilot are: Primus Telecommunications, Tech 2U, Webshield, OMNIconnect, Netforce and Highway 1, who have thrown their support behind the capabilities of filtering technology. The pilot will involve six weeks of testing once filtering equipment has been installed.

Enex Testlab has been contracted to run the pilot, but no specific starting dates have been announced.

The government said customers of participating ISPs would be able to choose whether they wanted to be included in the pilot trial. However, Webshield is an ISP whose business is based on providing “the best content filtering technology” and its subscribers already receive a filtered feed.

ISPs have been invited to take part in two pilot streams; filtering the ACMA blacklist of prohibited URLs; and filtering the ACMA blacklist of prohibited URLs in addition to content filtering solutions that may be offered as optional services by ISPs.

According to Senator Conroy, consultations continue with a number of other ISPs that have applied to take part. They include iiNet, Internode, Optus and others, some of whom have voiced concerns that the filtering tests will be watered-down and won’t represent real world conditions.

Telstra, the nation’s largest ISP, refused to participate in the trial, calling mandatory Internet filtering an attempt to boil the ocean.

Networking experts, SAGE, say broadband costs will rise and access speeds may suffer if the scheme goes ahead.

Senator Conroy said the government is aware of technical concerns about ISP filtering, and will look at the efficiency and effectiveness of a range of technical solutions, as well as other issues such as ease of circumvention, impact on Internet speeds and user experience.

“The live pilot will provide evidence on the real world impacts of ISP content filtering, including for providers and Internet users. It will provide evidence to assist the government in the implementation of its policy,” he said in a statement.

Conroy’s shadow, Senator Nick Minchin, was quick to respond to the government’s announcement, issuing his own statement criticising the delay in the trials which were originally scheduled to begin in December.

“It is also extremely puzzling why two of the nation’s three largest ISPs, Optus and iiNet, have not been included in the first phase of these trials, despite expressing a willingness to participate,” Minchin said.

Senator Conroy’s office said evaluation and consultation of each ISPs individual application to partake in the trials may result in some taking longer than others.

“Australia’s largest ISP, Telstra BigPond, has refused to participate and without the ‘big three’ it is difficult to see how these trials could in any way be credible,” Minchin said.

He called on Senator Conroy to commit to an independent audit of results.

Senator Conroy’s office said it will release publicly the Trial Report prepared by the department on the results of the pilot trial.

Security experts have claimed blacklists are the wrong approach to Internet filtering as they will only ever grow and can never remain current.

Scholars from Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford universities have labelled the proposal frightening, while other critics have called the scheme pointless as tech savvy Gen-Yers will quickly spread circumvention methods on social networks.

The proposal also sparked protests in capital cities around Australia.

(See Computerworld’s coverage of the December anti-filtering protests in Sydney.)

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