NBNs face an adult content dilemma

Tony Poulos

NBNs face an adult content dilemma

July 11, 2011

The rollout of national broadband networks for the early-adopter countries is uncovering some very interesting challenges. The least expected is the slow take-up of subscribers to the blindingly fast fiber networks. Is it because the technology is scary, the cost too high or consumers are happy with what they have? Whatever the reason, suggestions are coming thick and fast as to what may be needed to stimulate customer numbers.

Perhaps the most novel has come from a ComputerWorld report that personal entertainment use, adult entertainment specifically, will drive the uptake that will be vital to the success of the NBN project in Australia. Yes folks, we’ve all heard the great socio-economic reasons for NBNs like eHealth, education, IPTV, government services, video streaming delivery, social networking, etc etc, but adult content?

“The single most important factor is the porn factor because pornography has always been at the cutting edge of technology,” Jennifer Wilson, director of content provider The Project Factory, told the Australian Computer Society (ACS) forum in Sydney. “If we cannot get porn on the NBN than we will have trouble getting consumer acceptance and uptake.”

It has long been known that the adult content industry spearheaded video-streaming technology as well as the associated eco-system for accepting payments online. It was, for many years, the only truly profitable online business and continues to proliferate in markets that allow its distribution. But here lies the catch.

Australia, like many of its neighbours in Asia, now actively filters content on its networks. We will now see internet censorship from a country known for democracy, human rights and freedom.
Internet censorship is spreading like wildfire, surprisingly in more developed countries like Turkey that announced its plans to censor internet from 22 August, while New Zealand approved the plan to censor torrent and P2P sharing sites. Malaysia recently blocked 10 top file sharing websites, disruption in accessing ‘thepiratebay.com’ in USA, Iran banned access to several websites, China is censoring almost all the world’s top websites, while at the same time encouraging clones to rise, and censorship plans in several other countries are still on table.

The Australian filtering efforts are currently voluntary and focus on child abuse material, but the fear is it will open the door for more restrictive censorship. The government has long been attempting to push through a proposed mandatory internet filter that would block websites that contain or might contain Refused Classification (RC) material. Refused Classification would also include sexual violence and 'fetish' content that is routinely consumed in Australia, content related to crime, euthanasia, violence, drug use and promoting terrorist activities. One wonders of YouTube would even survive such a broad classification.

A similar announcement in New Zealand recently resulted in total confusion and consumer backlash in the market place as New Zealand authorities did not know what they were going to ban and what the actual ban meant to internet users. I once recall conducting a traffic audit for one ISP in the Wellington area back in the late nineties and discovering that 95% of traffic after 9 pm was adult content related. Filtering that traffic should certainly free up some bandwidth.

In any case, regulators face the dilemma of killing off what could be the biggest reason for attracting subscribers to NBN services. If adult content is so popular that it must be assumed that many ‘normal’ people view it in the privacy if their own homes. Any form of censorship this broad could have ramifications at the next elections, not only because of angry voters feeling repressed, but because of low take-up of NBN services and the failure to meet targets.

Of course, anyone that keen could simply subscribe to any number of VPN or proxy server offerings to circumvent the filters which, no doubt, the most hardened porn practitioners and would-be bomb makers would do.

As for ‘net neutrality’, well, how could any country that actively filters internet content have the audacity to introduce legislation for an open internet. We’ve seen stranger things.
 

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