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Monday, 28 July 2008 17:36

ISP level net filtering: don't get too excited

By
Communications minister Stephen Conroy, hell-bent on foisting ISP level Internet filtering on all Australian consumers, is pretty pleased with the report of a trial of ISP level filtering handed to him recently to him by the ACMA, but it leaves many questions as to the practicalities of ISP level filtering unanswered.

You can blame neither Conroy nor ACMA for these omissions: the ACMA was working from a brief handed to it by the previous government when compiling its report (in PDF format).

The purpose of the trial was to assess, in a laboratory "the capability of available technology to filter illegal or inappropriate content at ISP level and advances in filtering technology since the previous trial in 2005."

However, the ACMA was not asked to "assess the capabilities of ISP level filtering technologies that filter only illegal content." Subtle, that one!

Nor was the ACMA asked to investigate the balance of costs and benefits associated with implementing ISP level filtering, including: capital and operating costs; costs associated with any upgrade of an ISP's network to address performance degradation resulting from filtering; the nature and implications of the implementation of ISP level filtering for ISPs' customers.

Nor did it asses the ease with which a filter can be circumvented (easily according to some claims) and the ease with which it can be installed, deployed and implemented.

Nevertheless, the ACMA did find the technology greatly improved, which pleased the minister, who is very keen to introduce ISP level filtering. "Tests undertaken during the laboratory investigation found that the quality of ISP-level filtering technology has significantly improved compared with the technology used in a previous trial conducted in 2005," he said.

"It is very encouraging to see that the industry has made significant progress with ISP filtering products and we are heartened that many of the products tested are commercially available, with many of them already deployed overseas."

Also, with few exceptions, none of the products tested had any ability to identify illegal or inappropriate content carried via non-web protocol.

The ACMA notes that this is "despite developments in the use of Internet technologies that have lead to an increased use of non-web protocols such as instant messaging and file sharing."

Continued on page 2.


Perhaps the most significant limitation of the trial was that it was conducted with a simulated tier 3 ISP, one that purchases outbound transport from other networks to reach the Internet.

ACMA said that it was not feasible in the trial to assess how the performance results for the selected products might scale to a tier 2 ISP - one which directly peers on the same level of hierarchy but must purchase outbound transport to reach some portion of the Internet - or a Tier 1 ISP.

As the latter account for the bulk of Australian Internet customers, one has to wonder just how useful this trial has been.

The real test of the technology will come in the next phase: a test of filter technologies in a real world environment with a number of ISPs and Internet users. An expression of interest request will be released shortly seeking participants.

However there seems to be little doubt in Conroy's mind that implementation will go ahead, regardless of the outcome.

"We are interested to see the results of filtering in real-world conditions and I encourage ISPs to participate. This will enable the implementation of ISP filtering in Australia to be undertaken in an informed and effective way."



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