Net filters could put ISPs $1M out of pocket

Industry hanging without more details

The Federal Government’s Internet content filter scheme could put many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) up to $1 million out of pocket.

Three of Australia’s biggest ISPs, two of which did not wish to comment on the record, have said independently that the filters could cost up to $1 million to implement.

Other ISPs said they had not priced the roll out, some citing a lack of information on the scheme.

Internode network engineer, Mark Newton, said a workable distributed content filtering system could cost $1 million.

“I'd have to build it again twice as big every 18 months, as traffic loads tend to take that long to double, leading to a five-year CAPEX cost somewhere in the vicinity of $7 million,” Newton said.

“I think I could design and build a system that didn't work very well for sub-$100,000.

“All this is assuming that systems [exist that are] capable of operating without performance degradation on the 10Gb interfaces we use, which right now [means] placing significantly more faith in censorware snake-oil vendors than I'm willing to invest,” he said.

Telstra had not responded to questions at the time of publication, however Newton said the cost of implementing the filters for a telco of Telstra’s size would be “enormous... and order of magnitude larger than [$1 - $7 million]”.

One c-level executive for a large ISP, who requested anonymity, said it would cost about $1 million based on current network configuration.

“If [we are] required to only filter international website addresses, then [the filter] can be deployed on the international links, otherwise if domestic URLs need filtering we will need multiple filters in every capital city,” he said.

“The government [should] subsidise filters. It’s an unnecessary expense that only the government thinks will... stop illegal content. Demanding that industry foot the bill for a technological solution that the experts have unanimously said won’t work is a political sop, and [it] shouldn’t be imposed on industry.”

Another ISP chief engineer, who also did not wish to be named, said the ongoing operating cost of the content filters could quickly exceed the $1 million required to establish them.

Outspoken Exetel chief, John Linton, estimates the filter could cost an ISP of its size between $25,000 and $75,000. A trial of the filters conducted last year by the ISP found the technology to be less costly and more effective than many in the industry anticipated.

Linton said filtering would cost about "$25,000 for 50,000 users" — about 50 cents a subscriber.

Each respondent agreed it was too early to determine a definitive cost until the Federal Government clarifies its plans.

A spokeswoman for communications minister, Stephen Conroy, said she understands the government is in consultation with industry to establish costing.

ISPs said questions remain on liability if content filters fail, whether bypass mechanisms can be installed to mitigate outages and if the government will subsidise a centralised filter server to remove the prohibitive costs for a group of smaller ISPs.

Newton said a voluntary content filter model, proposed by former communications minister, Helen Coonan, would the cheapest to engineer because it could be assumed that only small percentage would opt-in to the system.

A Ovum 2003 report on Internet content filtering, commissioned by Coonan’s office, recommended the government subsidise the scheme and assist smaller ISPs with ongoing management. The Internet environment has changed dramatically, however, since the report was released, however, particularly in relation to the takeup of broadband services.

Newton said his sub-$100,000 filtering model would "use [Web Cache Communication Protocol] WCCP or DNS redirection on LNSs to divert blacklisted destination IPs to a farm of proxy caches with the blacklist loaded on them. I would have to be able to turn the whole thing off... if the caches were overloaded and impacted normal performance expectations, until the offending URLs were unblacklisted".

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Tags internet content filteringISPsSenator Stephen Conroy

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