Online Bill could chase ISPs offshore

Internet companies are claiming Australia could lose significant revenue offshore if the controversial Online Services Bill is passed, but the federal government is asking how and why.

Ross Wheeler, director of rural based Internet company, Albury.Net.Au, told Computerworld he plans to move his organisation offshore before Christmas if the bill is passed. If he does, the Australian economy would potentially lose Albury.Net.Au's yearly million-dollar revenue.

E Lists, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Net Services Australia, manages e-mail lists, is also considering moving its operations out of Australia.

"If the bill goes through, Australia is stuffed," Wheeler said.

"It's going to kill the e-commerce business in Australia."

Albury.Net.Au is a 20-year-old company that moved into Internet services around 1994. As well as operating as an Internet service provider (ISP), the company is also involved in content development, content hosting and international systems administration and consulting.

"It is impossible for us to comply with the legislation," Wheeler said.

In what he described as a direct response to the lack of uncertainty surrounding the bill, Wheeler said he has already moved a significant proportion of operating capital out of the country.

The company has also halted expansion plans that involved buying around $60,000 of hardware and employing additional staff members.

Andrew Hennell, managing director of E Lists, said he is also considering moving out of Australia.

"If legislation that is fairly blind in its applications and thought process is going to threaten our business, I'm really wondering why I should be here in Australia," Hennell said. "If it was a year ago, we would have set up offshore because of the bandwidth situations and infrastructure, but over the last 12 months, Australia's Internet backbone has greatly improved.

"We are an Australian company, we're aiming our service at Australia, we're not interested in competing in the US or on a global scale.

"We're interested in building a service for Australia and tying it in closely with other Australian business . . . but now maybe we should push the dollars offshore," Hennell said. According to Terry O'Connor, spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, rather than sending ISPs offshore, the bill provides important protection for ISPs.

"How could it possibly kill e-commerce in Australia? Are they suggesting that all of electronic commerce in Australia is based on illegal material," O'Connor said.

"Our bill makes it clear [ISPs] cannot be liable . . . [it offers] important protection."

O'Connor suggests companies read the bill more carefully before moving away.

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