Internet giants oppose new regulator

Summary:Internet giants and Australian telecommunications providers have opposed the Australian Government's proposal to instate a digital economy regulator, stating that increased regulation is unnecessary and possibly harmful.

Internet giants and Australian telecommunications providers have opposed the Australian Government's proposal to instate a digital economy regulator, stating that increased regulation is unnecessary and possibly harmful.

(Refused image by Charline McBride, CC2.0)

The proposal stems from the interim report for the Convergence Review, an examination of Australia's communications and media industry to determine what changes need to be introduced or made to existing policy and regulatory frameworks. The proposal, if successful, will replace existing regulators such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority with a "new independent regulator for content and communications" that is technology neutral and would "operate at arm's length from the government except for a limited range of specified matters".

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy lists 79 submissions from organisations that agreed to have them published online, and it further indicates that it received over 28,000 submissions from individuals.

Google opposed the introduction of a new regulator, stating in its submission that although it had initially been supportive of the approach set out in the initial Terms of Reference, the new guidance provided in the Interim Report provided "unprecedented and unwarranted regulation on the online media sector".

The company was of the view that increased regulation would harm the digital economy.

"A key part of meeting the government's digital economy goals is ensuring that Australia's online media, communications and creative sectors are thriving. The regulatory regime proposed in the Interim Report would not, in our view, achieve this. On the contrary, we are concerned that the likely regulatory burden and uncertainty would create real disincentives for internet industries to invest in Australia."

Facebook was supportive of Google's views, stating the introduction of such a regulator would be contrary to Australia's goals.

"Facebook is concerned that the new digital economy regulator proposed in the Interim Report will discourage investment and innovation in Australia's digital economy and interfere with the government's objective, stated in the National Digital Economy Strategy, of Australia becoming one of the world's leading digital economies by 2020."

"By proposing a new regulator with broad powers for any issues that may arise across the digital economy, the Review Committee is recommending, without any supporting evidence, a highly interventionist role for government in the digital economy."

Telstra stated that it did not support the creation of a new regulator, questioned why one would even be necessary and criticised the Interim Report failing to provide sufficient evidence of the need for one.

"The Interim Report offers no explanation for why a new regulator is required beyond 'the importance of the digital economy to our future'," Telstra's submission read.

"There is no need to create an entirely new regulator to advance the Convergence Review's policy principles. Telstra is not aware of any reason that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) are unable to perform the regulatory functions required in a convergent environment."

Optus also found the Interim Report to be lacking in necessary detail, its submission stating, "it is disappointing that necessary and critical detail of key recommendations, particularly the objective, scope and cost of the proposed digital economy regulator, are missing therefore restricting Optus' ability to provide definitive views".

It too opposed the creation of a new regulator, stating it would "unnecessarily delay the implementation of a new content access regime under the existing legislative framework, cause market confusion and drive industry costs".

The Motion Picture Association did not address the introduction of a regulator in its submission and while the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) stated that it advocated the introduction of "a communications regulator with flexible rule making and enforcement powers", it did not elaborate on its support for one in its submission.

The final report to government is scheduled for next month.

Topics: Google, Government, Government : AU, Telcos, Telstra

About

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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