The Federal Government tonight announced that it would not proceed with a funding program that has seen Australian internet service providers (ISPs) provided with grants to offer internet filtering options to customers, citing a lack of interest in the project.
The initiative, dubbed the Voluntary Internet Filtering Grants Program, was established in last year's budget as part of Labor's over-arching internet filtering policy, which is also seeing the government push ahead with plans for mandatory filtering of the internet at the ISP level. However, in budget papers released tonight, the government revealed that the project had proven less than popular, with only $200,000 of the available $9.8 million in funds being used in the past 12 months.
"The government provided $9.8 million in the 2010/11 Budget to establish the Voluntary Internet Filtering Grants Program to assist internet service providers (ISPs) to offer customers internet filtering options on a commercial basis," the papers said.
"However, consultation with industry has identified limited interest in the grants due to the increasing range of filtering technologies readily available to online users, including browser and search engine filters, and the decision of the three largest ISPs, which account for over 70 per cent of Australian internet users, to voluntarily filter child abuse sites using a list compiled and maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority."
Several ISPs have offered voluntarily filtered broadband connections for some time to Australians, as well as access to internet filtering software that can be installed on users' PCs. It is not clear to what extent the PC software has been taken up, but the ISP-based offering is known to have seen poor take-up rates.
Facing strong opposition from the Coalition, the Greens and the general public, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy last year postponed the wider internet filtering legislation while a review of the Refused Classification category of content (that the filter is intended to block) was carried out by the Minister for Home Affairs for the consideration of federal and state attorneys-general.
In October, an official from Conroy's Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy acknowledged that the department was not actively working on the filter project at that time, pending the review. However, it was working with the three major ISPs, Telstra, Optus and Primus, that agreed to voluntarily implement a more limited filter to block child pornography from reaching their consumers rather than the full Refused Classification category of content.
The more limited voluntary filtering scheme involving Telstra, Optus and Primus is due to kick off in the middle of this year. It is not clear what stage the three ISPs are at with respect to implementing the filtering technology.
See ZDNet Australia's complete coverage of the budget.