Australians ready to leave internet providers that filter content

Australian broadband users are prepared to switch internet service providers if their current provider signs up to the government's voluntary internet filter.

In a survey conducted by Compare Broadband, which asked, "If your internet provider starts to filter content (blocking websites promoting illegal activities), would you move to one that doesn't?" a massive 75% of the 283 polled Australians said they would leave their current internet service provider in order to receive an unfiltered service.

These findings will come as a blow for the government, which has delayed implementing a mandatory internet filter in the hope that ISPs will voluntarily filter specific websites with illegal content.

Three of Australia's major ISP's, BigPond, Optus and iPrimus, have voluntarily agreed to the government's plan to filter websites they believe customers should not access. The internet content to be filtered by the ISPs under this voluntary scheme is child abuse or child pornography found within a Refused Classification list maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

While child pornography is the focus of the ISPs' voluntary filter, the government's list includes a wider range of banned material on subjects like drugs, abortion, and terrorism that fall into legal and moral grey areas. The scope of the government's proposed censorship and the controversy over who would make the decisions has clearly made the mandatory filter unpopular among many Australians.

Compare Broadband's General Manager, Scott Kennedy, said: "It is not surprising that Australians do not want to be told what they can and can't access online. If, as the poll suggests, 75% of people start to leave their ISP due to the filter being applied it is hard to see the ISPs continuing with the voluntary trial. The government may well need the co-operation of all ISPs in order for this voluntary scheme to be a success, unless they choose to enact the mandatory internet filter anyway."

If there is an exodus of customers from these three internet providers, they could be heading in the direction of companies like iiNet, TPG, Exetel or Internode who currently have decided to opt out of the voluntary filter plan.

It looks as though Australians simply don't want to be told what they can and can't see or read, tying in with our intrinsic democratic beliefs about freedom of speech. However, there are questions arising around whether or not people could be 'incriminated' for wanting an unfiltered internet service.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is aware of these concerns and so has delayed a possible mandatory filter for another year. During this period the government will recommend a review of the RC classification to State and Territory Ministers.