Following the internet blackout in Egypt over the last week, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy this morning said that he didn't think the Australian Government had the power to pass a law to make internet service providers cut off the internet.
Egypt has attracted international condemnation for its government's internet shut-down command, which saw communications in the country severed from 27 January by executive order. Vodafone said services had eventually been restored to its customers in Egypt on Saturday morning, noting in a blog post several days ago that it had no legal options but to comply with "the demands of the the authorities" on the issue.
The issue has attracted questions in Australia about whether such a situation could eventuate down under. Speculation was heightened by news that the US legislation, which would grant the US President "kill switch" powers over the internet in the United States, was returning in a revised form this year for consideration.
However, this morning, Conroy told journalists the idea wasn't being floated in Australia.
"Australia's a vibrant democracy, where the government doesn't control the internet," he said. "I don't think we have any of these powers — that we could pass a law to make ISP services turn off when we want them to? I don't think we have that power now, and I don't think anyone's seeking it."
Conroy said in "a pluralistic, open speech, free speech" society such as Australia, he didn't think the sorts of actions taken "by a whole range of governments in recent times" would be implemented.
"I mean I understand China blocked access to the word Egypt, I read. But those aren't the sort of actions Australia supports or would participate in," he said.
Flooding the NBN
Conroy also commented on the potential impact on the National Broadband Network from the recent catastrophic events in Queensland — not just the floods that took out much of the state's infrastructure, but also tropical Cyclone Yasi, whose effects are still being felt in the Sunshine State.
A report in The Australian this morning had suggested that large parts of the Townsville early stage leg of the NBN roll-out could be facing a rebuild. However, Conroy said the Townsville roll-out was "almost completed", and that although the flood issue would need to be dealt with, this was not dissimilar from any other infrastructure "that gets hit by 30-year events".
In addition, he pointed out that the current national copper network operated by Telstra was more susceptible to problems from events such as floods than the next-generation fibre being rolled out by NBN Co — as copper degraded in water. "Fibre is actually a far more robust technology for dealing with, particularly, floods," he said.
NBN Co would inspect the potential damage, he said, after it was safe to do so.
As to the matter of whether the Queensland reconstruction project would put pressure on the NBN human resources, with workers being needed to rebuild in the wake of the disasters, Conroy said that was an issue for every company.
"Just like every other company in Australia, NBN will manage the same sort of pressures," he said. However, Conroy noted that the government had attempted to "calibrate" some of the resourcing issues by cutting back on other infrastructure projects.
Lastly, Conroy gave a very brief update on his opinion of whether the Federal Government's $11 billion deal with Telstra over the NBN would land before the company's imminent results briefing session. "I'm an optimist, so I've got my fingers crossed," he said.