Authorities struggle to regulate mobile content

Australian telecommunications legislators and statutory bodies are not keeping pace with the industry when it comes to personal mobile phone content services.The soft-core pornography service Hutchison Australia launched on its 3G platform last week currently stands in a regulatory vacuum.

Australian telecommunications legislators and statutory bodies are not keeping pace with the industry when it comes to personal mobile phone content services.

The soft-core pornography service Hutchison Australia launched on its 3G platform last week currently stands in a regulatory vacuum.

That's because new regulations for providing mobile phone content services are late and were apparently, until earlier this month, heading off target.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has been cooperating with carriers on a 12 month trial of the 19x-series premium-rate SMS content numbers, but it's yet to finish drafting regulations covering the numbers. The regulations were expected to be released in tandem with the numbers themselves this month.

The ACA is yet to release the numbers but today said it had "made some progress" on the regulations.

Federal Minister for Information Technology and Communications, Daryl Williams, earlier this month made a new determination giving the ACA jurisdiction over a wider range of mobile content services.

If Williams hadn't extended the scope of the ACA's task beyond the 19x-series of numbers to cover all premium mobile content just 10 days before Hutchison launched its service, it and similar adult mobile content would not have been touched by the new rules at all.

The regulations contain provisions aimed at the protection of minors. Under the new rules, carriers will be required to tier content based on Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) guidelines and provide parents with a means to control children's access to the content.

Robert Johnston, head of numbering for the ACA, said the rules would also help parents control children's access to certain types of chat services.

Though it's extremely unlikely to happen, Johnston conceded that the situation today meant that carriers could, theoretically, deliver X- and RC-rated content over their mobile phone networks beyond the reach of censorship laws currently affecting other forms of media.

Three's adult service is unlikely ruffle the feathers of any but the most austere moral guardians. It offers soft-pornography video-clips and pictures provided by men's magazine giant Playboy Enterprises.

Johnston said three's service was unlikely to fall too far foul of the regulator when the new regulations take effect. He said that the carrier may have "some additional things to do" but that the steps it had taken so far were broadly in line with expectations.

However, three's Playboy service is currently protected by user PIN numbers. The ACA said in February it preferred the use of defined number ranges over PIN numbers having been advised by European authorities that they too easily fell into the wrong hands.

ACA deputy chairman Alan Horsely conceded earlier in the year that the regulations were causing headaches for the authority.

Horsely said that that the capability of some newer generation phones to access the Internet, which is already under Australia's censorship regime, was making it hard to define where the mobile content sits in respect to current classification laws.

"That's one of the things we're confronting: if you've got this [mobile] device in your hand is it an Internet terminal or a telephone terminal, and how do you get control?" said Horsely in February.

The dilemma said Horsely was that when a mobile phone was accessing the Internet the carrier was acting as an Internet Service Provider. However, in drafting Australian Internet censorship laws in the mid 90s the federal government has already conceded that it would be nearly impossible for ISPs to regulate Internet content.

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