The federal government yesterday called for expressions of interest from internet service providers to conduct a live pilot of the controversial internet content filtering pilot it is planning.
With the pilot hoped to be commenced by 24 December 2008, the expressions of interest (EoI) document has been peppered with what appear to be small enticements for ISPs to join the trial.
The government has promised to promote ISPs' role in the pilot with intent to "strengthen their brand image with the community". The terms of the agreement have also been kept loose: the government wants to start the six week live pilot with ISPs before Christmas, however ISPs will be able to start later if they want, presumably at least six weeks prior to the end of June 2009.
Limited funding for ISPs is also available, according to the EoI, to help reduce the cost of purchasing and installing content filtering equipment, however if too many ISPs register interest the government has planned to ration funding under an open tender process.
There is also the prospect of financial rewards. To this end, the pilot will be split into two streams: those ISPs that filter the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) blacklist; and those that also provide filtering of non web based applications such as peer-to-peer networks, which are not covered by ACMA's blacklist. The latter group has been urged to charge customers for premium filtering.
Exactly what ISPs will be charging for is questionable however. The initial tests results released in July revealed that filtering technologies could not identify illegal content over peer to peer networks, only block the entire network. ACMA also held earlier reservations about the technologies' capabilities on this front.
If recent reactions to mandatory ISP filtering by the heads of Internode, Telstra's BigPond and iiNet are anything to go by, the government is likely to have difficulties finding ISPs willing to partake in the pilot.
In interviews over the past few months, Simon Hackett, managing director of Adelaide-based ISP Internode has said that filtering by ISPs was "loony" because it was expensive, performance-degrading and annoying. Justin Milne, group managing director for Telstra BigPond, has said that forcing ISPs into a 'gatekeeping' role would have significant legal implications — and is a role that police should do, not ISPs.
Michael Malone, iiNet CEO, has questioned the ethical position of the Australian Government attempting to censor the internet like the Chinese Government.
The closing date for submissions to participate in the pilot is 8 December 2008.