Free and open internet has become an increasingly important issue in Australia.
The country’s Federal Parliament has already approved an amendment to the Telecommunications Act which gives ISPs extra flexibility to block and slow content.
But the Federal Government is set to change the law in a way that will allow ISPs to give themselves extra breathing space to block content that they don’t like.
The amendments are part of the Government’s push to make the internet more neutral and open.
Under the new rules, internet service providers (ISPs) will have the right to discriminate between lawful content and unlawful content and could be able to block or slow websites that they disagree with.
Under this approach, ISPs would be free to decide which websites they want to allow to flow through their network.
But a significant group of internet users have argued that the proposed amendment will only lead to a greater concentration of internet service, and that it could lead to slower, less efficient internet.
So what is net neutrality?
“Net neutrality is a principle that we need to uphold,” Senator Nick Xenophon, the federal opposition leader, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“It is a fundamental principle of an open internet that we shouldn’t have the government deciding what should be in the internet.”
A great example of this principle is that when the Federal Parliament passed its first laws relating to broadband, it made it clear that ISPs couldn’t block content, or slow down access to content that the government disagreed with.
“Internet users and media organisations have expressed concerns about the amendments.
In a statement, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said that the changes were “not a blanket ban on the use of internet blocking, throttling or discrimination.””
These changes will make it easier for ISPs to decide what content should flow through the network, so that we can all benefit from the benefits of an unfettered, open and affordable internet,” ACMA spokesperson Andrew Condon said.”
These reforms will also help ensure that our businesses have the flexibility to deliver the right content to the right customers.
“He added that the amendments will also protect consumers and ensure that “reasonable network management practices” are applied.
However, the ACTU’s state secretary, Adam Bandt, said that “if the ACT is really serious about net neutrality, it needs to take a stand”.”
These amendments are not a blanket banning of the use by ISPs of internet filtering, throttlling and discrimination.
They’re actually an important step towards ensuring that internet users are not getting the worst of the internet and we’re not getting a slow internet at all,” he said.
Senator Bandt said that he supported the ACTUs approach to net neutrality and that “we can’t afford to have a situation where ISPs and other ISPs have a blanket veto on what content they can deliver to consumers”.”
If ISPs have an incentive to try and prevent certain types of content, we should make sure that they can’t just block content they don.
“We should be encouraging innovation, not restricting it.”‘
More than just the internet’The amendments will come into effect from the end of the year.
However the ACT’s independent MP and internet rights campaigner, Pauline Hanson, has called on the Government to reverse course and ensure the amendments don’t go ahead.
“This amendment is the most significant move towards a more open internet since the introduction of the Digital Economy Act, which was passed by the ACT,” Senator Hanson said.
The ACT has seen a number of major court cases over net neutrality in the past year, including the High Court challenge that saw the Federal Court strike down the rules.
The court’s ruling also meant that the ACT government was able to implement the new amendments without a Federal Court challenge.
Senator Hanson also said that she was “not happy” with the Government moving forward with the amendments without considering the implications for consumers.
“I’m not happy with the lack of scrutiny and analysis into the impacts of this amendment,” she said.
Senator Hanson told the ABC that the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to block the changes on its own in November 2015 was a “big mistake”.””
The ACT doesn’t need to be subjected to a new ‘fast lane’ for the benefit of big telecoms, it already has a strong internet neutrality regime.”
Senator Hanson told the ABC that the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to block the changes on its own in November 2015 was a “big mistake”.
“The Communications Alliance, who represent a lot of the big ISPs, including iiNet, have called for the Federal government to reconsider and to get the Communications Act changed,” she added.
The Government is likely to introduce a number more amendments before the ACT votes on the changes later this year.