ISPs will be granted a one-off government subsidy towards the cost of installing filtering technology as part of the Rudd government's AU$125.8 million cybersafety plan.
The plan, as pitched during the Rudd government's Election campaign, will move the emphasis from parents onto ISPs to filter "inappropriate content" from the Web surfing experience of Australians.
The Government is yet to provide details on how much of the AU$125.8 million will be used for the subsidies — but with AU$47.6 million of that sum going to the Australian Federal Police, AU$11.3 million to the Director of Public Prosecutions and AU$14.1 million to ACMA to expand its regulatory role — ISPs shouldn't be expecting a huge windfall.
It has long been argued by both service providers and civil liberties groups that ISP-level filtering has negligible effect — because using a small blacklist fails to have an impact, while a larger one has the potential to slow down data transfer speeds.
Peter Coroneos, of the Internet Industry Association, told the ABC in March: "The evidence is that the greater the range of content that you're trying to block on the Internet, the greater the negative affect you have on the performance of the Internet."
"Mandatory ISP filtering may be technically feasible but currently there is no method of ISP server-based filtering that is both technically practical and effective in protecting children," said the Electronic Frontiers Foundation.
These reservations have been swept aside by the Rudd government, which, during the 2007 election, made ISP-level filtering a part of its promise to protect Internet users from inappropriate content.
The government has since awarded a tender to Enex TestLab in January of this year, which is currently conducting trials in conjunction with ACMA.
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy says the initiative will include industry consultation and examination of similar efforts overseas.
"ISPs in a number of European and other countries are already filtering child abuse material," he said. "While there may be technical and cost hurdles, the message from other countries is that these can be overcome."
An ACMA report commissioned by the Department for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy in February, concluded that ISP-level filtering only slows down Internet speeds if the list of banned sites is too large. It did, however, also conclude that while current filtering technology can work with static Web content, most solutions are unable to filter content on chat rooms or within Instant Messaging services.
Australian Computer Society president Kumar Parakala responded to the plan by saying that the ACS welcomes Senator Conroy's targeted plan to create a safer online environment for Australian children.
"I think it is an excellent initiative and as the use of cyber-technology increases among young children, something like this is a necessity," he told ZDNet.com.au.
Parakala said he doesn't expect ISP filtering to create a major overhead on broadband capacity.