Senator Conroy finds his internet filter

This is a major move that effec­tive­ly (re)nationalizes essen­tial infra­struc­ture. Is that good or only inevitable giv­en the his­to­ry of mis­takes in the reg­u­la­tion of pri­vate tele­com infra­struc­ture?

One imme­di­ate con­cern with this new direc­tion is that his­to­ry shows com­pa­nies with a major­i­ty gov­ern­ment-own­er­ship in Aus­tralia and else­where become fero­cious rent-seek­ers (think Qan­tas and the pro­tec­tion of air routes). But there’s also another—perhaps less seri­ous—way to look at today’s announce­ment.

Sup­pose you’ve been mocked by civ­il lib­er­ties groups and indus­try groups (includ­ing ISPs) for propos­ing an inef­fec­tive fil­ter for con­tent that is alleged to be ‘ille­gal’ or pos­si­bly only ‘unde­sir­able’. Sup­pose that you’ve real­ized the pun­ters will hate because it threat­ens to squeeze their band­width. But you’re deter­mined to do it and you’ve got at least $4.7bn of tax­pay­ers’ funds in your kick to play with. Well…

One way to trump your crit­ics and to fil­ter what­ev­er you desire is to become the prin­ci­pal sup­pli­er of Inter­net access:

The Rudd Government’s Nation­al Broad­band Net­work will be built and oper­at­ed by a new com­pa­ny specif­i­cal­ly estab­lished by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment to car­ry out this project. The Gov­ern­ment will be the major­i­ty share­hold­er of this com­pa­ny, but sig­nif­i­cant pri­vate sec­tor invest­ment in the com­pa­ny is antic­i­pat­ed. The Gov­ern­ment will make an ini­tial invest­ment in this com­pa­ny but intends to sell down its inter­est in the com­pa­ny with­in 5 years after the net­work is built and ful­ly oper­a­tional, con­sis­tent with mar­ket con­di­tions, and nation­al and iden­ti­ty secu­ri­ty  con­sid­er­a­tions.” Extract from Sen. Conroy’s Press Release (empha­sis added)

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