Report likely to suggest code of conduct for ISPs

WA’S Internet Services Providers have welcomed plans by Australia’s top telecommunications watchdog to introduce a code of conduct for the ISP industry.

Many ISPs believed it was important for the growth of the industry and consumer confidence to impose regulatory guidelines on those providing Internet connec-tions.

The Australian Communications Authority is expected to report to the Federal Government by the end of the month on whether ISP regulation is necessary. ACA director Alan Horsley has already said he believed the industry would be healthier if customers and ISPs understood Internet performance levels.

But the ACA, along with the Internet Industry Association, has stated it would not favour strict regulations. IIA executive director Peter Coroneos believed any future codes should focus on customer education and minimum standards.

Chime managing director Andrew Milner said that, although the Internet service industry was already covered by various telecommunications codes, he believed guidelines specifically covering ISPs were overdue.

“Internet services are being used by so many people now that it is almost becoming as essential as a telephone service, but unlike the telephone there is a vast disparity between the quality of service,” Mr Milner said.

“I think having some appropriate industry codes to give consumers some more confidence is probably a good thing at the end of the day.”

OzEmail, one of WA’s most popular ISPs, has been involved in the drafting of various codes of conduct by the IIA in the past. It was involved in drafting guidelines in 1997 and, more recently, regulations concerning privacy.

OzEmail Internet CEO Justin Milne said the ISP would support a co-regulatory regime that allowed all participants to share their views.

“OzEmail believes that much can be achieved through a co-regulatory regime that allows all participants to air views and concerns and craft processes that achieve a positive outcome for all parties involved – both regulatory, consumer and industry alike,” Mr Milne said.

But he believed the ACA must take into account the diverse nature of the industry and services provided.

“It must always be remembered, however, that the ISP industry is peculiarly diverse in its nature and therefore any code or regulatory regime has to account for the enormous variances across the industry.”

One area many of the ISPs are hoping a code of conduct will clean up is the bargain basement Internet accounts. Many providers feel consumers are only considering cost when choosing which ISP to sign with, rather than other factors such as help desk support, reliability and download limits.

“It is always a concern within an industry if consumer confidence is crushed by players who don’t invest the proper resources to provide a complete service,” Mr Milne said.

“We pride ourselves on providing a service which is reliable, secure and private.”

The IIA’s call for a public education campaign to run in conjunction with a code of conduct also has been given the thumbs up by the industry.

OzEmail’s Mr Milne said potential customers should know what to expect from ISPs.

“Given the varying levels of service and price structures that are available, education would play a key role in the consumers developing justified expectations and having those expectations satisfied through informed choices,” he said.

The introduction of fast ADSL connections in recent months also has made the ISP market more confusing, according to Commerce Australia technical manager Adam Campbell.

He said many customers were caught out when Telstra introduced download limits on its BigPond broadband service.

“There are strict download limits imposed and often the user doesn’t understand what the limit is or what happens if they exceed it. A lot of people are caught and they need to know what their actions are using those products,” Mr Campbell said.

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