'Good citizenship' comes between Australians and their mobile porn

Mobile phone operator Optus is giving the Australian Communications Authority one last chance to come up with guidelines for adult content on mobiles before putting their service live

"Good corporate citizenship" is all that stands between Optus and its plans to introduce adult content to its mobile phone service, the SingTel-owned company said late yesterday.

Chris Lane, director Optus Mobile Partners, said at the launch of the company's new music channel 'Arcade' on Thursday the company planned to add a channel dedicated to adult content on its youth-focused mobile content portal, Optuszoo. The company hopes to launch the channel in the first half of 2005.

According to Lane, ideally the company would like the launch to coincide with the Australian Communications Authority's (ACA) release of regulations governing the use of 19x-series premium-rate SMS and MMS content numbers set aside for adult services.

The ACA was expected to release the regulations last April. At the time, ACA acting chairman Bob Horton said that the regulator was grappling with the question of whether mobile providers were acting as Internet service providers or conventional carriers when delivering Internet access to handsets.

Last month there were clues that regulators were leaning toward the former conclusion when the Internet Industry Association revealed that it had moved to widen its code of conduct to include mobile data services.

However, Lane said Optus was prepared to go ahead and launch the channel with or without a regulatory regime in place, if authorities take more than two years to resolve the issue.

"I think that we would go ahead once we had our restricted access system in place but, to be good corporate citizens, I think for now we're giving the regulator some time and we're hoping to launch all of that together," said Lane.

It's clear that carriers don't want the lucrative relationship between technology and erotica, which blossomed with the invention of the VCR, to be interrupted.

"New technology is often brought forward and driven forward by adult services and I don't think mobile phone content will be different," said Lane.

Hutchison Australia has already made soft pornography available on its 3G platform in the form of a Playboy branded content channel.

Lane said Optus would not launch its service until it had its access control system in place in sympathy with concerns about the availability of adult content on mobile phones.

"With a handset I think the concern is that the kids could get on to certain sites and download things without parents having any opportunity to be aware of it and that's why the restricted system is quite important," he said.

However, while carriers may be pinning their hopes on adult mobile content for premium revenues, currently their portals attract a sizeable share of the demographic that regulators are trying to protect.

Optus says the vast majority of Optuszoo's 250,000 active users are aged 16 to 24 years-old and the company is continuing to sharpen the portal's appeal for the younger end of the range. The company today launched, Aracade, a channel aimed at providing a market place for games, ring tones, and music news and gossip.

"Clearly the advertising and the promotion we were to use to promote adult content would be very targeted at adults... and it wouldn't be in Arcade," said Lane.

Optus gave assurances that none of its handsets would be able to access its adult content without verification that its user was over 18.

"To the extent that it's multiple handsets on one account, the thinking is that all of the handsets would be barred [from adult content] until an individual is able to come forward and prove that the owner of that handset is over 18," said Lane.