The threat of government licensing of internet service providers could lead to InternetNZ resuscitating its Industry Advisory Group (IAG), to help bring ISPs onside in the code of practice debate.
While the threat of licensing if no code can be agreed on is a low risk at present, says InternetNZ executive director Peter Macaualy, it could "grow from a whisper to a roar", and cannot be ignored.
An IAG was provided for in the original Internet Society (as it once was called) constitution, with a representative seat on the society’s ruling council. At last year’s annual general meeting, that right was abolished, as the group had not taken it up for some years and did not appear to exist as a real body that the council could access.
Macaulay has suggested than an IAG be convened from ISP representatives, initially for the specific purpose of assisting in formulating the CoP.
He says this would be a way of bringing in particularly Xtra, the country’s leading ISP, which has previously said it is not convinced of the need for a code.
In Macaulay’s view, this reflects a concern by Xtra and others that the structure would effectively put InternetNZ in control of the conduct of private companies. Representation on an IAG might calm those fears, he suggests.
“I think Xtra is willing to work with us, but still not entirely convinced,” he says.
There is a need for consistency in ISP standards, Macaulay says, so users “can compare apples with apples”.
Since the formulation of the original CoP, “the industry has developed significantly.
“We have a much smarter consumer, and, at the other end of the range, we still have consumers who are comparatively naïve.”
The code has to deal with the needs of that range, and with “a changing model of service provision”, he says.
Once the advisory group had dealt with the CoP, it could be expanded to tackle other issues, he says.
Domain name commissioner Debbie Monaghan has an industry committee advising her. The position of an InternetNZ IAG would be similar in some ways and meet similar needs, but different in that InternetNZ and its council would be more hands-off in its relationship to the committee, while the commissioner still holds ultimate control in her sphere, Macaulay says.
The threat of ISP licensing, raised in the report of the parlimentary inquiry into the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act is low at present, he says.
“What makes me nervous is that this is the sort of thing that can grow quickly from a whisper to a roar if there’s some incident that triggers it. If it gets to a roar then all the lobbying of MPs we could do at that stage would probably have no effect. So we’d be silly not to put processes in place now [to forestall that happening].”
The CoP will be discussed at next week's Festival of Technology, in Wellington, which will incorporate Internet NZ's AGM.