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Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering

Author Image Gerry Patterson. The world's most humble blogger
PGTS, Your Very Humble And Trustworthy Blogger

Does ACCAN Have Teeth?

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Date: Tue, 02 Feb 2010 01:31:58 +1100

Recently, Allan Asher, chairman of the Telecom consumer watchdog ACCAN, was interviewed on the Radio National program, "The National Interest". Unlike many Australian CEOs, who speak in the tongue of corporate weasel-speak, Allan spoke clearly and concisely in English. He had some interesting things to say, and perhaps even a word or two of advice for his boss, Senator Conroy.

ACCAN, The Australian Consumer Communications Action Network was created in July last year by merging the Consumers Telecommunications Network (CTN) with other consumer organisations. The initiative was announced by Senator Conroy and the organisation is funded by the government from a levy imposed on the industry.

Allan Asher has built a reputation as an articulate consumer advocate. He has worked for Choice Magazine and the ACCC. In fact he was one of the early victims of the purges that swept the ACCC clean of anyone suspected of being too earnest about actually being a genuine advocate for consumers.

Nevertheless, despite his impressive credentials one might expect, given the circumstances of his organisation, that Asher could turn out to be an ACMA poodle, and a mere mouth-piece for the Telcos. Judging by this interview however, this is not the case. ACCAN has already played a significant role in putting a stop to the levy proposed by Telstra on Bills (In other words customers would have been charged for the privilege of paying their bills!).

Certainly in the course of the National Interest interview, Asher did not pull his punches. He considers the performance of Australian Telcos to be abysmal and among the worst in the world. He pointed out that the OECD ranks countries across several criteria in telecommunications. And that Australia is one of the most expensive in the world for broadband access, text and phone calls. He cited broadband access, which was the third highest in the countries that the OECD measures. However for customer service, Australia's ranking is lower. In fact Australia is one of the worst performers. The rate of complaints about service was nine times higher than it was in the UK. And your blogger humbly suggests that it is not due to the fact that Aussies whinge more than their English cousins.

He also dismissed the tired old argument about costs due to those great big Aussie wide open spaces ... Since the Australian population is highly concentrated around the coast and in a few major urban centres.

Considering that, in a Choice survey, Big Pond was recently voted the worst (and most expensive) ISP in Australia ... Then, considering also the fact that Australia is ranked one of the worst in the world, Big Pond (Telstra) is arguably the worst Telco in the world. But fortunately, they can find a few dollars to pay their CEOs nice big fat bonuses!

As it turns out, Allen Asher was not afraid to criticise his boss, Senator Conroy. He took him to task for a few things. First of all on the matter of the Do Not Call Register, which was (he conceded) an excellent initiative, but had two serious flaws. Namely:

  1. The register only lasts for three years. After that everything resets and it's open slather again.
  2. Political parties and charities are exempt.

To which your blogger might humbly add ... Political parties and charities also get special treatment under the Spam legislation ... But that is a different (though related) topic.

It was Mr Asher's comments about Internet Filtering that really caught your blogger's humble attention. These comments were brief and to the point. In summary, he dismissed the proposed government plan in a couple of sentences. And here it is worth quoting him:

There are lots of devices and software available right now, on Microsoft Outlook ... And on most of the services, where you can set your own filters that will work equally as well as [The ACMA Blacklist] ... In fact probably better! [The ACMA Blacklist] system is very expensive ... And being based on a ban on a thousand named sites ... Can be avoided in nano-seconds. So in other words ... It's expensive! It won't do the job that it sets out to do! And consumers could do it just as easily for themselves!

Umm, Senator Conroy? Are you listening? Hello? Are you receiving this?

The full interview can be found here: here.

And if any of you have a complaint about Telecommunications, your blogger might humbly suggest that you take it up with ACCAN. If you can judge the organisation by the way the CEO talks, then you might get a sympathetic ear at ACCAN. Just google for them.

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