When Australia's telco sector says enough is enough

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When Australia's telco sector says enough is enough

[Blog post] Don't poke the bear.

After working with the government on a number of unwanted pieces of new regulation since the LNP came into power last year, the telco industry has finally said enough is enough.

In rare united front, four industry groups representing the bulk of Australia's IT and telecommunications sectors yesterday in no uncertain terms told the government its latest attempt to impose further regulatory burden on the sector was a step too far.

The sweeping draft laws - which are being led by the Attorney-General's Department - would see telcos forced to hand over sensitive information about their network and procurement plans so the government can decide whether any national security risks exist.

It would allow the government to ban telcos from buying kit from the likes of Huawei - which is still barred from contracting to the NBN - over unspecified and vague 'security concerns'.

Failure to comply with an AGD directive to hand over the data could see a telco hit with a $250,000 fine.

Unsurprisingly, an industry which considers itself under attack is now fighting back.

Telstra and the Communications Alliance earlier this week independently labelled the so-called telco sector security reforms as too broad, intrusive and burdensome, and the rest of the industry has now thrown in its support.

Not only is the proposed legislation highly over-reaching, the industry argues, it would also actually have the opposite effect and set Australia back in its efforts to protect nationally-important infrastructure from cyber attack.

Rarely before have we seen such a united front from the IT and telco industries on such an issue.

It's no surprise that telcos - who are already struggling with the costs and regulatory burdens involved with implementing a mandatory data retention scheme, piracy code and laws to block offshore piracy websites - are railing against further legislative obligations from a government that purports to be about red-tape reduction.

It's also unsurprising that telcos aren't keen to hand over highly-sensitive information on their networks to a department that has no restrictions over who it can share that information with and how long it can keep it for.

The local telco market is worth around $43 billion, and the wider Australian ICT market is worth around $100 billion.

It's a massive sector that the government would be unwise to get offside.

So far, telcos have decided to grin and bear the seemingly unending onslaught of new regulatory obligations being thrown at them, but keep poking the bear and it's going to get angry.

The question is: how much more will the telco industry take before it decides to use its considerable might to its advantage?

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Allie Coyne

Allie Coyne is a Sydney-based journalist and the editor of iTnews.

Coyne started on iTnews in 2013 after almost two years running the website of technology channel publication CRN.

Coyne won best new journalist in the 2013 Microsoft IT Journalism Awards, and was named best business technology journalist at the same awards in 2015, again in 2016, and won best security journalist in 2018. She left iTnews in 2018.

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