ISPs get code but not everyone likes it

InternetNZ claims it has support for an ISP code of practice, though differences have arisen around how rigorously the code should be enforced.

InternetNZ claims it has support for an ISP code of practice, though differences have arisen around how rigorously the code should be enforced.

Peter Macaulay, executive director of the internet policy body, says the industry should now be looking forward.

“We have the time, now the top-level domain is running well, and we have the means; now we should create the way ahead.”

Most of his audience at the Festival of Technology in Wellington earlier this month appeared to be in support of the suggested code, but there were some dissenting voices. They tended to favour a “best-practice standard” to which ISPs could aspire to rather than be bound by.

The Institute of Directors has such a standard, notes InternetNZ council member David Farrar.

“They don’t enforce it, but it’s good common sense to abide by it.”

Directors who had successfully met the standard could point to that fact in a court case.

But a number of other speakers pointed to the risk of the internet industry being regulated if it did not come up with a binding code with legal force. The threat to put a government-run licensing system in place in the absence of a code came earlier this month from the government administration select committee, as an outcome of its inquiry into the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act. This had as one of its briefs to consider the differences in censorship compliance problems consequent on the advance of IT and communications.

Farrar suggests that governments often do not do what select committees say, but the mood of the meeting appeared to be that it was better to play safe.

Macaulay says there is no reason why a best-practice standard cannot be mounted in conjunction with a binding code of practice representing a “floor” for standard of service.

There is no danger of heavy-handed regulation, like the Technology and Crimes Bill of the early 1990s, says lawyer and retiring InternetNZ vice-president Rick Shera, but rather “legislation by a thousand cuts”. The Films, Videos and Publications Classification committee proposal was not the only legal measure that could handicap use of the internet, though asked to identify others, he declined to be specific. “It’s useful [in the face of such risks] to have something we can point to and say ‘this is already being dealt with’,” he said.

The threat of legislation is not, of course, the only impetus behind the move to a code. The code was originally devised in the 1990s but has been languishing in the face of an indifferent response from leading ISPs Xtra and ClearNet (now part of TelstraClear).

Macaulay has had an assistant collecting the views of ISPs and other stakeholders for some weeks and says he will be devoting a good deal of work in July to getting firm commitments to the code.

He repeated publicly what he told Computerworld earlier this month: “This is not the InternetNZ code of practice; it’s something we will facilitate, but the industry will set it up for itself.” ISPs are concerned how the evolution of the code would be managed, he says.

A service provider advisory group, or Spag, is the currently contemplated answer. It will have to be carefully structured as a “balanced team”, says Macaulay, giving neither dominance to the big players nor the small ones an influence disproportionate to their size.

At a glance…

  • ISP code of practice was originally devised in the 1990s but lacked ISP support.

  • InternetNZ now says it has ISP support. The common view is that if the internet industry does not have a binding code with legal force, it will be regulated from outside.

  • But some favour a best-practice standard ISPs can aspire to but not be bound by, and others are concerned about how the code’s evolution will be managed.

  • InternetNZ's Macaulay says a carefully structured, “balanced” service provider advisory group is the answer.

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