Optus says 'yes' to internet filter plan

Optus, the second largest Internet Service Provider in Australia, has given the federal government's controversial plan to filter Internet content a boost by agreeing to take part in a six week trial of the scheme.

The decision will not sit well with many Australian companies, civil liberties organisations and interested parties who have strongly opposed the plan, and have been critical of recent bungles on the government's secret but leaked black list, which has included certain Internet gambling operations (see previous InfoPowa reports).

In an article on the Optus decision, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Sydney and Newcastle subscribers will be asked to take part in the federal government's controversial test of internet filters.

The Rudd Government made an election promise to offer households a family-friendly clean internet service but has struggled to deliver the pledge in the face of severe criticism from some sectors of the internet industry that it was censorship that would block legitimate sites and dramatically slow internet download speeds.

The Broadband and Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said Optus's decision to participate would ensure the government received "robust results" to inform the development of the filtering policy.

He said the Government was testing the feasibility of a filter to block material that had been "refused classification" such as images of child sexual abuse, bestiality, sexual violence and material that advocates committing a terrorist act.

Optus spokesmen said the ISP would contact residential customers about the trial, scheduled to begin on May 22 and run for six weeks. Gary Smith, regulatory compliance manager at Optus, said customers would have the option to decline to participate or even opt out of the trial once it commenced, and gave an assurance that only sites on the secret official Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist would be blocked.

Some cynical observers questioned the timing of Optus's decision to co-operate with the government, asking whether the company was trying to win favour in Canberra to secure a role in building the national broadband network. However, Optus said it had applied to participate last December. Its director of government and corporate affairs, Maha Krishnapillai, said the company was taking part to explore the ways it could help families to use the internet safely.

"Optus believes the best way to accurately gauge the impact that this type of filtering may have on our network, including download speeds and customer experience, is to play a pro-active role in the pilot," he said.

The government suffered a blow last month when the nation's third-largest internet service provider, iiNet, pulled out of the trial, saying it would not work, and a whistleblower website published a list of websites it claimed were on the ACMA blacklist that included a dentist and online poker sites. ACMA said the list was fake.

Seven other internet service providers, including the fourth-largest, Primus, and six smaller companies, have signed on to the trial.

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