A 2010 cable from the Canberra Embassy to the White House, outed by Wikileaks last week, warns that the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) will worsen the levels of copyright theft in Australia.
The comment came in a cable reporting the outcome of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft's (AFACT's) Federal Court case against iiNet. AFACT failed to convince the Federal Court in February 2010 that iiNet had authorised its users' copyright infringement by failing to pass on notices provided by AFACT. In the cable, it is noted that as a result of the loss, AFACT would increase pressure on the government to make law changes.
"The hope for AFACT and the big studios was that a favourable decision would have established an international precedent that could have forced ISPs to tightly police the activities of their customers," the cable said. "AFACT will likely increase its lobbying of the Australian government for legislative changes.
"In the meantime, the problem will persist and probably worsen with the advent of Australia's high-speed National Broadband Network, as the speeds at which copyright theft can take place will literally multiply."
AFACT subsequently appealed the Federal Court's decision, and lost the appeal with the full bench of the Federal Court. Earlier this month, AFACT was granted special leave to appeal the case before the High Court of Australia, and the case is expected to be heard later this year or early next year.
NBN Co itself recently appointed one of the most high-profile anti-piracy advocates in Australia: Sabiene Heindl of Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI) as stakeholder manager.
Telstra dominates leaked cables
Australia's incumbent telecommunications provider Telstra was a hot topic of conversation in the leaked cables, appearing in five cables outed by Wikileaks on Friday.
In the earliest cable from March 2007, the Melbourne Embassy concluded, following a meeting with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that a failure by the then-Howard Government to structurally separate Telstra as a reason why there had been a delay in rolling out a fibre network to Australia.
"Splitting Telstra's infrastructure and product divisions would have made the transition to fibre networks more rational and easier to regulate. However, this was politically untenable at the time, likely because the government wanted to maintain the company's share price before the sell-off. As the benefits of making the switch to a fibre network are substantial, especially in a country with Australia's geographic peculiarities, it will likely go forward with Telstra in the driver's seat."
As the newly installed Rudd Labor government moved ahead on its NBN project, a cable from July 2008 notes that progress on the government's plan had stalled due to a lack of cooperation with Telstra. The cable notes that "after a warm beginning, relations between Telstra and the Rudd Government have begun to deteriorate", and while Telstra had initially liked Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, because he "had the fine quality of not being Helen Coonan, the Howard Government's last Minister for Communications", talk of structural separation of the telco had Telstra threatening legal action.
As the government entered negotiations with Telstra to get on-board the NBN, a cable from September 2009 warned that government threats to prevent Telstra from accessing spectrum if it refused to structurally separate could have backfired.
"Although the government holds the upper hand in negotiations, it must still proceed with caution, as not to 'kill the goose that lays the golden egg'."