The Howard Government commissioned a number of investigations into the effectiveness of Internet content filtering, including filtering at an ISP level and at an even higher Government/Internet backbone level. One of these investigations was conducted by Melbourne telecoms and software consulting firm, Ovum, in 2003 on behalf of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

It found the additional hardware and software an ISP would need, would likely require them to carry on costs to their customer base. It also noted that if additional charges were likely, it would encourage users to opt-out.

Another important finding was the danger that larger ISPs will absorb the costs of mandatory Internet filtering in the short term to gain competitive advantage over smaller ISPs.

It found performance issues would only be small.

You can download the full report here: Ovum, 2003, Internet Content Filtering. RTF.

Here’s a closer look at what the 84 page report found on ISP level filtering:

Administration implications:

  1. An ISP would need a support service in place to deal with this such as a call centre. This service would need to be able to deal with variable volumes, for example on day one the system could potentially fall down with a surge of calls requesting the opt-out.
  2. Consideration could be given to a central contact for opt-outs from which details are sent to ISPs.
  3. Authentication requirements associated with an ?opt-out’ scheme may be an additional administrative cost.
  4. ISPs would need to provide a mechanism for implementing the opt-out requests, and the issue of the delay between submission of a request and receipt of the unfiltered service would need to be addressed.
  5. For practical purposes, ISPs would also be required to identify the service to which the user subscribes and to provide the appropriate service, creating ongoing costs.

Performance implications:

  1. If the scheme does not provide the user with a choice of opt-out, there will be some unavoidable impact on the performance of the Internet. This impact will be small, but could become more noticeable at times of heavy load. If an opt-out provision is included the negative impact on the Internet will be less as users can choose to opt-out if they feel it will enhance the performance of their service.
  2. ISPs in Singapore have stated that there is no impact on performance as a result of this server-based filtering. However, the list of web sites prohibited is very small. If the list were larger there would be more impact on performance, but it would still only be detectable at times of high load. It should also be noted that there are only 3 ISPs in Singapore – compared to 571 in Australia (source: Australian Bureau of Statistics – Yearbook 2003).
  3. Distribution of a list to all ISPs in Australia and policing their compliance would involve significantly more work than in Singapore.

Financial implications:

  1. Cost of the software and hardware will be unavoidable as filtering will need to take place at the ISP to ensure enforceability. The systems employed will need to be sized to scope with all their clients instead of a subset, which also increases the cost in relation to Scenario 2. Even if an opt-out service were provided, the ISP would still need to scale the system to cope with all its users.
  2. Either way, the ISP is still likely to charge for the service and if opt-out is provided, the charges may encourage users to do so. Without opt-out the cost of filtering would become similar to a standing charge e.g. line rental for telephone.
  3. Initial hardware and licence costs will be heavy for the ISP. There will also be ongoing licence costs on an annual basis. The costs passed on to their customers are likely to be higher than current server-based filtering systems due to the extended scope and coverage that will be required. However, it is unlikely that the ISP will be able to pass on all costs to customers. There is also a danger that larger ISPs will absorb the costs in the short term to gain competitive advantage over smaller ISPs. This would likely result in the need for legislation to ensure fair competition.

You can download the full report: Ovum, 2003, Internet Content Filtering. RTF.