Australians have a number of internet connection options, including ADSL, ADSL 2+, wireless, cable, satellite, and dial-up.5 Wireless systems can reach 99 percent of the population, while satellite capabilities are able to reach 100 percent. The phasing out of dialup continues, with nearly 90 percent of internet connections now provided through other means. Once implemented, the NBN will eliminate the need for any remaining dial-up connections and make high-speed broadband available to Australians in remote and rural areas.In 2008, approximately 73 percent of people aged 14 and over lived in a household with an internet connection, while 58 percent lived in a household with a broadband connection.7 These figures are expected to steadily increase to 100 percent with the implementation of the NBN. Although internet access is widely available in locations such as libraries, educational institutions, and internet cafes, Australians predominantly access the internet from home, work, and increasingly through mobile telephones. The majority of all age groups are using the internet, with the exception of those aged 65 and over.8 Age is a significant indicator of internet use, with 100 percent of teenagers (aged 14 to 17) reporting that they have used the internet, 92 percent of them to a medium or heavy degree. By contrast, only 56 percent of those aged 65 and over have used the internet, and just percent report heavy or medium usage.9 Approximately 50 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in discrete indigenous communities (not major cities) have access to the internet with 36 percent having internet access in the home. Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Internet Activity, Australia” (June, 2010), http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8153.0/ accessed December 30, 2010; International Telecommunications Union (ITU), “ICT Statistics 2009—Internet,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspxReportName=/WTI/InformationTechnologyPublic&ReportFormat=HTML4.0& RP_intYear=2009&RP_intLanguageID=1&RP_bitLiveData=False.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Communications Report, 2008–09 (Canberra: ACMA, 2009), http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib311252/08-09_comms_report.pdf.
Australian Government National Broadband Network, “NBN Key Questions and Answers” http://www.nbn.gov.au/content/nbn-keyquestions-and-answers-faqs accessed June 2010.
ACMA, Communications Report, 2008–09.
ACMA, Australia in the Digital Economy, Report 2: Online Participation (Canberra: ACMA, 2009), http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_311655.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Internet Access at Home” 2006, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Chapter10002008 accessed October 2010. For a AUSTRALIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Australia has a mobile-phone penetration rate of 110 percent with many consumers using more than one SIM card or mobile phone.11 In remote indigenous communities percent of the population had taken up mobile-phone services in 2004.12 However, not all indigenous communities have mobile-phone coverage such that the overall mobile-phone penetration rate in Aboriginal communities is unknown. Third-generation (3G) mobile services are the driving force behind the recent growth, with 12.28 million 3G mobile subscriptions operating as of June 2009.Internet access is affordable for most Australians. The government subsidizes satellite phones and internet connections for individuals and small businesses in remote and rural areas, where internet access is not comparable to that in metropolitan areas.Australia, like most other industrialized nations, hosts a competitive market for internet access, with 104 medium- to large-sized ISPs and another 585 small providers.
Many of the latter are “virtual” maintaining only a retail presence and offering end users access through the network facilities of other companies.15 ISPs are considered carriageservice providers under Australian law. As such they are required to obtain a license from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and submit to dispute resolution by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). Australian ISPs are coregulated under Schedule 7 of the 1992 Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), meaning there is a combination of regulation by the ACMA and self-regulation by the telecommunications industry.16 The industry’s involvement consists of the development of industry standards and codes of practice.
The government has adopted a strong policy of technical neutrality. There are no limits to the amount of bandwidth that ISPs can supply. While the government does not place restrictions on bandwidth, ISPs are free to adopt internal market practices on traffic shaping. Some Australian ISPs practice traffic shaping under what are known as fair-use policies. If a customer is a heavy peer-to-peer user, the internet connectivity for those activities will be slowed down to free bandwidth for other applications.17 Advanced web applications like the social-networking sites Facebook and MySpace, the Skype voicecomprehensive report on indigenous Internet use and access see ACMA, Telecommunications in Remote Indigenous Communities (Canberra: ACMA, 2008), page 48, http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_311397 accessed June 2010.
ACMA, Communications Report, 2008-09.
ACMA, Telecommunications in Remote Indigenous Communities, page 30-32.
ACMA, Communications Report, 2008-09.
Rural Broadband, “Welcome,” http://www.ruralbroadband.com.au, accessed June 2010.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Internet Activity, Australia, Dec 2009,” http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/8153.0Main+Features1Dec%202009OpenDocument.
Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/acamaa2005453/; Broadcasting Services Act 1992, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/bsa1992214/; ACMA, “Service Provider Responsibilities,” http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/1001/pc=PC_90157, accessed June 2010.
Vuze, “Bad ISPs,” http://wiki.vuze.com/w/Bad_ISPs#Australia, accessed June 2010.
AUSTRALIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net communications system, and the video-sharing site YouTube are neither restricted nor blocked in Australia.
The ACMA is the primary regulator for the internet and mobile telephony, and is responsible for enforcing Australia’s anti-spam law.18 Its oversight is generally viewed as fair and independent, though there are some transparency concerns with regard to classification of content. Small businesses and residential customers may file complaints about internet, telephone, and mobile-phone services with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO),19 which operates as a free and independent dispute-resolution scheme.
LIMITS ON CONTENT Australian law does not currently provide for mandatory blocking or filtering of websites, blogs, chat rooms, or platforms for peer-to-peer file sharing. Access to online content is farreaching, and Australians are able to explore all facets of political and societal discourse, including information about human rights violations. Their ability to openly express dissatisfaction with politicians and to criticize government policies is not hindered by the authorities.However, there are two regimes that regulate internet content. Under one regime, material deemed by the ACMA to be “prohibited content” is subject to take-down notices.
The relevant ISP is notified by the ACMA that it is hosting illicit content, and it is then required to take down the offending material.21 Under the BSA, the following categories of online content are prohibited:
• Any online content that is classified Refused Classification (RC) by the Classification Board, including real depictions of actual sexual activity; child pornography;
depictions of bestiality; material containing excessive violence or sexual violence;
detailed instruction in crime, violence, or drug use; and material that advocates the commission of a terrorist act.
ACMA, “The ACMA Overview,” http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=ACMA_ORG_OVIEW, accessed June 2010;
ACMA, “How Regulation Works,” http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PUB_REG_ABOUT, accessed June 2010.
Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, http://www.tio.com.au, accessed June 2010.
Chris Nash, “Freedom of the Press in Australia,” Democratic Audit of Australia, November 19, 2003, http://democratic.audit.anu.edu.au/papers/20031119_nash_press_freed.pdf.
Internet Society of Australia, “Who Is an Internet Content Host or an Internet Service Provider (and How Is the ABA Going to Notify Them,” http://www.isoc-au.org.au/Regulation/WhoisISP.html, accessed June 2010;
Stuart Corner, “EFA Fights ACMA Over ‘Take-Down’ Notice,” iTWire, April 20, 2010, http://www.itwire.com/it-policynews/regulation/38423-efa-fights-acma-over-take-down-notice; Internet Industry Association, “Guide for Internet Users,” March 23, 2008, http://www.iia.net.au/index.php/initiatives/guide-for-users.html.
AUSTRALIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net • Content that is classified R 18+ and not subject to a restricted access system that prevents access by children, including depictions of simulated sexual activity;
material containing strong, realistic violence; and other material dealing with intense adult themes.
• Content that is classified MA 15+, provided by a mobile premium service or a service that provides audio or video content upon payment of a fee and that is not subject to a restricted access system, including material containing strong depictions of nudity, implied sexual activity, drug use, or violence; very frequent or very strong coarse language; and other material that is strong in impact.To date, this system for restricting access to videos, films, literature and similar material via take-down notices has not emerged as problematic in terms of any overflow to information of political or social consequence. In addition, the general disposition is to allow adults unfettered access to R 18+ materials while protecting children from exposure to inappropriate content.
Under the second regime, the ACMA may direct an ISP or content service provider to comply with the Code of Practice developed by the Australian Internet Industry Association (IIA) if the regulator decides that it is not already doing so. Failure to comply with such instructions may draw a maximum penalty of A$11,000 (US$10,800) per day.
Other regulatory measures require ISPs to offer their customers a family-friendly filtering service.23 This is known as voluntary filtering, as customers must select it as an option.
However, in recent years, the government has proposed implementing a mandatory filtering system run through ISPs.24 Draft legislation was proposed under the Labor government led by Kevin Rudd, but was then put aside in the run-up to elections held in August 2010. Under the previously proposed draft, the list of sites to be blocked would initially focus on images of child abuse, particularly child pornography. The ACMA would have the responsibility of maintaining the blacklist, but the criteria for blocking sites remained nebulous. Under the latest proposal, the ACMA would blacklist any content classified as RC, and its early trials of internet filters used an initial list of over 1,300 sites, versions of which were leaked.25 The list revealed that the overwhelming majority of ACMA, “Prohibited Online Content,” http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_90102, accessed June 2010.
Internet Industry Association (IIA), Internet Industry Code of Practice: Content Services Code for Industry Co-Regulation in the Area of Content Services (Pursuant to the Requirements of Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992), Version 1.0, 2008, http://www.iia.net.au/images/content_services_code_registration_version_1.0.pdf.
Alana Maurushat, Renee Watt, “Australia’s Internet Filtering Proposal in the International Context,” Internet Law Bulletin 12, no. 2 (2009); ACMA, “Internet Service Provider Filtering,” http://www.dbcde.gov.au/funding_and_programs/cybersafety_plan/internet_service_provider_isp_filtering.
ACMA, “Internet Service Provider Filtering”; Wikileaks, “Australian Government Secret ACMA Internet Censorship Blacklist, 18 Mar 2009,” http://mirror.wikileaks.info/wiki/Australian_government_secret_ACMA_internet_censorship_blacklist,_18_Mar_2009/, accessed February 2011.
AUSTRALIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net websites hosted child pornography. However, there were a few notable exceptions of a gambling site, a euthanasia site, and a few pornography and fetish sites that did not host child pornography. The list, therefore, contained both banned content that it was designed to block and broader content that many would consider reasonable to remain accessible, fueling public fears that the system could be easily abused to expand censorship.
The proposed filtering system has been controversial in Australia as there are concerns of over-blocking, censorship of adult materials, scope creep, and impairment of telecommunication access speeds.26 The federal elections in August 2010 saw the forming of a minority government with Julia Gillard of the Labor Party coming to power. While Gillard has voiced support for the filter in the media, the likelihood of any such proposal becoming law is slim due to the strong opposition to any such legislation by opposition parties.27 Therefore, as of December 2010, the status of the initiative remained ambiguous and no internet filtering bill had been introduced in Parliament.