The Australian government’s Convergence Review Committee has released a Framing Paper and invited public submissions on what principles should guide the review over the next year.

The principles currently proposed span across broadcasting, telecommunications, and radiocommunication issues (although the bias is towards broadcasting content issues):

1. Australians should have access to a diversity of voices, views and information.
2. The communications and media market should be innovative and competitive, while still ensuring outcomes in the interest of the Australian public.
3. Australians should have access to Australian content that reflects and contributes to the development of national and cultural identity.
4. Australians should have access to news and information of relevance to their local community.
5. Communications and media services available to Australians should reflect community standards and the views and expectations of the Australian public.
6. Australians should have access to the broadest range of content across platforms and services as possible.
7. Service providers should provide the maximum transparency for consumers in how their service is delivered.
8. The government should seek to maximise the overall public benefit derived from the use of spectrum assigned for the delivery of media content and communications services.


The final terms of reference for the upcoming Convergence Review to be conducted by the Australian government have been announced, following on the draft terms of reference provided for public comment in December.

At the Australian Broadcasting Summit this morning, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Ditital Economy, noted that the final terms of reference have been released. The focus of this review appears to be how best to regulate content that are accessible across a number of delivery platforms (television, computers, and mobile/telecommunications devices), rather than via a single means as in the past.

The terms of reference, which are now posted on the Department’s website, include:

–ensuring that the policy framework for media content and communications services is appropriate, and advising on ways of achieving it and on the potential impact of reform options on industry, consumers, and the community;
–looking at all relevant legislation and regulations implicated by the terms of reference (including, it appears, those outside of the Minister’s portfolio);
–considering both regulatory and non-regulatory measures to achieve the new framework;
–taking into account a number of issues when developing the new framework, including ensuring an innovative and effective media industry, the continued production and distribution of Australian content, developing appropriate ways to treat content that crosses international borders, and considering the appropriate ways in which radiocommunications spectrum is allocated.

Senator Conroy also remarked at the conference that the review committee will include Malcolm Long, who until recently was a member of the Australian Communications & Media Authority. Now an independent consultant, Long was also past Director of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, and Managing Director of national broadcaster SBS, among other senior roles in the Australian media industry.

Update: The Department has announced that Glen Boreham, formerly Managing Director of IBM Australia, will be chairing the review committee. The third and final member of the committee will be announced shortly.

Only hours before major planned protests on Friday morning (28 January), the Egyptian government has shut down virtually all Internet access going in and out of Egypt, as well as SMS and Blackberry access. It seems that access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter may have taken place as early as Tuesday.

In two cities, Suez (north of Cairo) and the northern Sinai area of Sheik Zuweid, mounting protests have been calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. It has already been reported that social networking websites, particularly Facebook, have been used to build support and encourage participants in rallies this week–including large ones planned for Friday morning.

By Friday morning local time, reports confirmed that Internet traffic in and out of the country had slowed to a trickle. Renesys, a specialist in analysing Internet routing data (and a self-described “authority in global Internet intelligence”) has further confirmed that very early Friday local time, virtually all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table were simply withdrawn,

leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.

Renesys observed that oddly, Internet infrastructure company Noor Group was unaffected by the shutdown, with inbound Internet traffic via Telecom Italia arriving as usual. It also noted that the Egyptian Stock Exchange was still online at a Noor address. Their analysis revealed that the Exchange is normally reachable at four different IP addresses:

Internet transit path diversity is a sign of good planning by the Stock Exchange IT staff, and it appears to have paid off in this case. Did the Egyptian government leave Noor standing so that the markets could open next week?

It appears that Internet traffic solely within Egypt has remained unaffected. Some reports have also said that savvy users have found ways around the Internet blocks, using proxy servers and other methods.

Update, 29 January:

Further reports of the situation in Egypt have been made, with The New York Times suggesting why the almost complete removal of the country of over 80 million people from the Internet was possible at all. Not only was the Egyptian government instrumental in encouraging the spread of the Internet throughout the country, but its relatively liberal nature gave people little reason to suspect that the Internet could or would be shut down. As a result, the handful of Internet service providers in Egypt were not ready with a workaround. Ironically, it seems, some of the people who were expressing their frustrations with the government online only may now be joining others in the continuing demonstrations.

The draft Terms of Reference for the Government’s review of the laws relating to the converged media and communications industry have been published.

Part of a FAQ on the website of the Department for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, which is conducting the review, notes that:

* ‘Convergence’ describes the trend whereby devices (such as televisions, mobile phones and computers) and platforms (such as broadcast, telecommunications and broadband) that once had distinct functions may now support many different services and applications.
* You can now watch a TV show on your television, your computer or your phone. You can also make a phone call from your laptop or your email account. These examples illustrate the trend of convergence—that is, when the service experienced by the consumer is similar regardless of the network or device that delivers it.
* Convergence is driven by a range of evolving and new technologies including internet protocol networks, high-speed broadband and smart devices and phones.

The Department also notes that the incentive for the review, which will be conducted during 2011, is to ensure that Australia’s existing regulatory frameworks for broadcasting, telecommunications, and radiocommunications continue to operate appropriately in a media and communications sector that is becoming increasingly converged. Communications Minister Senator Conroy remarked in the media release announcing the review that the introduction of the National Broadband Network will accelerate the process of convergence. He also noted that the review will “look at all content delivery platforms including broadcast, mobile and fixed telecommunications and the internet”.

This review will consider possible changes to the three main acts governing the sector: the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Radiocommunications Act 1992, and the Telecommunications Act 1997.

The Department is accepting submissions on the draft Terms of Reference until Friday 28 January 2011.

On 28 July, the Australian Communications and Media Authority released its report which sets out the findings of the closed environment testing of ISP-level filters conducted in 2008. The Closed Environment testing report followed hot on the heels of the Developments in Internet Filtering Technologies and Other Measures for Promoting Online Safety report released in February 2008. The latest report shows that the filtering technology has definitely improved in terms of the accuracy of what it blocks and the impact it has on network performance since the NetAlert Ltd trial conducted in 2005. The conclusion, though, is that the filtering technology has not developed sufficiently to be able to tell the difference between legal and illegal and/or inappropriate content carried via non-web protocols (such as peer-to-peer and instant messaging).

Today we had the pleasure of a staff seminar up here at the University of Queensland Law School – by David Lindsay, an old colleague of mine from my melbourne days. David these days is at Monash University Law School.

David’s recently published a book with Hart called International Domain Name Law.

Now, I remember back when I first started teaching ‘cyberlaw’ type subjects at Sydney University back in around 2001-2002, domain names was one of those standard things you did. But people seemed to move on, lose interest; stopped talking about domain names much. But today’s talk was something of a revelation to me: David outlined something of the strange, quasi-common-lawish nature of the domain name decisions, with the gradual development of views on issues of interpretation, the areas of controversy, the splits, the absence of clear principles upfront leading to a gradual ‘feeling around’ – all at internet speed due to the number of decisions being issued. He also revealed some of the more outlandish aspects of this rough-and-ready systems: the application of random bits of national law; the lottery that is panellist appointment. And he elucidated how many of the areas of controversy could be fixed with some clear understanding of the objectives of the system.

It was very clear that david’s really done the hard yards in this book: he really has read the decisions – lots and lots and lots of them – and he’s done the heavy intellectual lifting of trying to make sense of it all. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic in recommending it should you ever need to worry about domain name disputes.

A report into Freedom of Information Laws and (media) free speech in Australia, commissioned by the Right to Know Coalition, has been released. Called the Report of the Independent Audit into the State of Free Speech in Australia, you can download it here (beware: big (336 page) pdf).

The media are breathlessly reporting that ‘more than 500 separate legal provisions in 335 different state and federal acts of Parliament are denying Australians access to a vast amount of information they should be able to see’. Numbers aside, I’ll be interested to see what kinds of information are limited, what grounds can be used to limit availability of information, and how the procedures for getting information are set up (are they complicated? simple?).

Obviously, I’ve not read it yet. Maybe more commentary when I have.

I’ve become more interested in copyright bureaucracies, and patent and trade mark offices: how they operate; how transparent they are; who they are; how powers are divided between them; how they interact; how they characterise their role, their ‘customers’, and their ‘stakeholders’. How we make them accountable for the decisions they make – or how we fail to do so. Regular readers may have noticed this flavour seeping into some of my more recent posts and papers.

Today, my little obsession is the growth of cooperation between Patent Offices around the world. While there’s long been cooperation (Trilateral Cooperation, for example, between the US, Japan and Europe was set up as early as 1983) I’ve been detecting an increase in the number of press releases in this area, and the number of mooted pilots and activities. So, being the obsessive that I am, I thought I’d collect together what’s been going on – at least as published, that I can find – and offer a few thoughts and questions that these developments raise. (more…)

Here’s the latest activity regarding communications related national security legislation brought to you courtesy of the Senate Bills List dated 15 October…


I read in the SMH that Premier Iemma is planning to reform the law to allow police to issue on-the-spot fines for minor criminal offences such as shoplifting, offensive language and minor fraud.

Can I just say that I think this is a really interesting, as well as a potentially troubling, development. I’m not aware of other situations in which conduct we might consider ‘truly criminal’, albeit only in a minor way, has been the subject of on the spot fines. And it seems to me that this approach, while having all the attraction of ‘efficiency’ in the allocation of policing forces, runs the serious risk of muddying the civil-criminal waters in undesirable ways. (more…)

Australia’s Patent Office, known as IP Australia, has launched its “Strategic Statement” for the period 2007-2012. Like all these things, it’s a bit boring and all motherhood-statement-y – as, indeed, one would expect.

But a couple of things about the Strategic Statement are notable. In particular, it explicitly states its ‘vision’: basically, it sees itself as a branch office, competing for business and trying to make its services more attractive to ‘customers’. But that raises some really interesting issues. Just think about the kind of business IP Australia is ‘competing’ in. On one view, it’s ‘competing’ in the business of granting monopolies. Can anyone see a problem? (more…)

Further to my previous posts, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2007 was passed by the Senate on 20 September 2007. It went through without a definition of ‘telecommunications data’. The Democrats and the Greens expressed their concerns about the bill generally and its impact on privacy and the vagueness of the term ‘telecommunications data’ but their suggested amendments were negatived. See Natasha Stott-Despoja’s speech and Kerry Nettle’s speech for details.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee report on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2007 was tabled in parliament on 7 August. Get the report here. The legislation was intoduced into the Senate on 16 August 2007. Given the changes that this Bill introduces to the current arrangements for interception capability, and access to ‘telecommunications data’, the recommendations of the Senate Committee will have a relatively low impact on the shape of the final Bill. There was an interesting response put by the A-G’s Department in the committee inquiry in respect the nature of ‘telecommunications data’ (see page 10 fo the A-G response). If RFC 2822 is of interest to you, read on…


The commercial FTA networks, through Free TV, are pushing for a change to the Commercial Television Code of Practice in advance of the imminent Federal election. The changes, which are the subject of public consultation, would allow the commercial FTAs to sell an additional minute of political advertising…


I’ve said it again, and again – what is it about internet censorship that leads to the complete departure of reason (and yes, yes, yes, I know, it’s an election year). Sigh grumble grumble.

I nearly choked over my wheaties this morning when I saw this story on the front page of the newspaper, according to which:

INTERNET service providers will be forced to filter web content at the request of parents, under a $189 million Federal Government crackdown on online bad language, pornography and child sex predators.

Let me see, which countries use ISP or country level filtering? China … Saudi Arabia … Thailand … Kazakhstan … Georgia … Iran … Sudan … Malaysia … Tunisia … Uzbekistan… Belarus. Yes, there’s a set of countries I aspire to join.

Now, admittedly, the proposal seems to have ISP level filtering ‘on request’, rather than entirely imposed from above. Unlike the Chinese, Australians will have choice about whether to have their internet service filtered (at least to some extent – there’s plenty of laws in place to require Australian-hosted material to be taken down). The idea seems to be that parents have trouble installing PC-based filters (or at least installing them so their tech-savvy kids can’t get around them) – so ISPs should be forced to do that work for them.

But then that raises interesting issues of cost, doesn’t it? Let us see, what did DCITA itself conclude (note: big pdf) just a couple of years ago?

• Filtering technologies have not developed to the point where they can feasibly filter R-rated content hosted overseas that is not subject to a restricted access system.
• Complex analysis filtering technologies are not practical in a national proxy filtering system. However, due to developments in search algorithms and server power, Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or Internet Protocol (IP) addressed-based filtering does appear technically feasible at the ISP or server level.
• There are a number of practical difficulties in mandating URL/IP based filtering at the ISP level, including accuracy rates and, according to the Internet industry, impact on broadband. Ovum has estimated that URL/IP based filtering would involve implementation costs of approximately $45 million and ongoing costs of more than $33 million per annum. Such costs could significantly impact on the financial viability of smaller ISPs, in particular. Given the limited benefits of an ISP-level filtering system, the costs of a mandated requirement to filter do not appear justified.

So. Show me the report that says something has changed. Oh, no, that’s right, this is another one of those back of the envelope ‘it’s important and it’s an election year’ things. Sigh, grumble, grumble.

And it does seem like a lot of money in order to make it a bit harder for a few kids to access inappropriate material, and to save those kids’ parents the trouble of installing filters on their home computers. cost effective? methinks not. Oh, yes, right – that’s not the issue, it’s an election year.

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