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RealTime IT News

Industry Protests Over Internet Content Bill

The Australian Internet industry took to the streets Friday to protest against the federal government's Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) legislation, which was introduced earlier this week.

Some 400 people rallied in Perth, Western Australia, to protest against the legislation, according to Michael Malone, technical director of Western Australian ISP iiNet and chairman of the Western Australian Internet Association. Groups of Internet industry members also hit the streets in other state capitals.

The content regulation legislation, which requires ISPs to filter offensive material before it reaches users' browsers, relies on a code of conduct for its administration. Such an approach has continually been described as unrealistic by the Internet Industry Association (IIA).

"While other countries are developing regimes to promote the healthy growth of their online sector, the government has put a roadblock in the way of Australian industry," said IIA executive director Peter Coroneos.

Industry reaction to the legislation has included companies planning to move their business out of Australia. Local start-up Free4all Classifieds Friday announced plans to move its Web publishing activity overseas.

Free4all is Australia's first free Internet classifieds site for private and trade customers to advertise in real estate, employment, automotive, and other areas.

Founder and managing director Michael Soker said that although the company filtered content "for offensive words and inappropriate content...the legislation will effectively make it imprudent for us to risk publishing in Australia."

"Whereas it is not viable to program a TV monitor or a radio receiver to restrict access to broadcast content, it is possible to control the level of access to Internet content on individual computers," added Soker.

"We clearly have the talent, the technology and the knowhow in Australia to put our minds to improving what we know is possible. The legislation is as naive as it is unworkable."

Coroneos said the IIA would be willing to cooperate with the government to develop a code of conduct which promoted the health of the industry and the confidence of consumers. He added though that the organisation "will not be incorporating unworkable provisions such as mandatory filtering of overseas content."

"As many experts on both the industry and government side have stated, this is impracticable. As such we have no intention of putting in our Code provisions which cannot be implemented."

Coroneos added that if a case was brought against an ISP on the issue of what was "technically or economically feasible," the IIA would supply the ISP with the resources to fight the case.