DEBATE has been raging about the federal government's proposal to introduce internet service provider filtering aimed at protecting children from harmful and illicit content on the web, and Western Australia's leading internet authorities are warning of the potential for more harm than good.
At the heart of the matter is concern about the effectiveness of filters and their adverse impact on internet speeds.
Broadband and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is hoping to provide what he describes as a "clean" internet feed to Australian families.
In theory this may be part of an answer to online security fears but industry players believe it is not practical.
And when considering the effects such a proposal will have on the business community, specifically here in WA, it opens an entirely different can of worms.
The most significant problem that will arise from implementing content filters, according to those in the business, is the negative effect it will have on Australia's already lagging internet speeds.
Some believe it could slow our system by up to 70 per cent.
iiNet chief executive Michael Malone has kept a very close eye on the ISP filtering debate since it first bobbed its head up about a decade ago, and he thinks Minister Conroy's latest incarnation is ridiculous.
"On the one hand, Conroy is out there saying the internet is a productivity tool and we need a high speed network to make the country more productive, then its somewhat hypocritical for him to say 'Yeah, we're going to put filters on the internet at the same time'," Mr Malone said.
"The reality is this stuff doesn't work, if you want to make sure your kids are safe online the best way to do it is to move the computer into the lounge room and keep an eye on them."
Mr Malone said his company has offered filtering programs for more than the last five years, with no demand from his customers.
"In reality, the parents themselves are managing this pretty damn well," he said.
"The Minister, who is suggesting $5 billion be spent on a National Broadband Network and national trial being run for filtering, you'd like to have some belief he knows what he's doing.
"I have no faith in the Minister and I'd be very surprised if Conroy was still the Communications Minister in six months.
"The filtering debate has been a disaster, and he's simply not listening to industry when they tell him what needs to be done and the NBN has made us a laughing stock."
Australian Web Industry Association committee member Myles Eftos believes WA businesses will suffer greatly if the live ISP pilot trial using real customers, which will begin soon, eventuates in legislation instituting ISP filtering across the board.
"E-commerce and online businesses will obviously be greatly affected by slower internet speeds," said Mr Eftos.
"Businesses using mobile broadband for daily communications could face breaking point.
"And it won't filter peer-to-peer networks, it won't filter email or chat systems and I would probably say they wont be able to filter secure websites."
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