16 telco heads request data retention funding info from Turnbull, Brandis

At least tell us what per cent you'll pay, cry carriers

The chief executive officers of 16 Australian telcos have written to the nation's attorney-general George Brandis and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull with a call for dialog on how much money they can expect to fund the development of metadata retention systems.

“We write as the Chief Executive Officers/Senior Executives of a broad spectrum of Australian telecommunications carriers and carriage service providers (C/CSPs) to seek clarity as to the Government’s stated intention to provide a contribution to the upfront capital expenses that may fall on our industry sector following the anticipated debate and potential passage of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014,” the letter opens.

The authors beef is that “We note that the Government has variously indicated it will make a 'reasonable' or 'substantial' contribution to these costs,” but that there's no indication of how much money the government attaches to either term. Australia's government has said it feels AU$319.1 million quoted as the upper limit to costs required to implement metadata retention “is less than 1 per cent of the $43 billion in revenue generated by the telecommunications industry annually”, the implication being that carriers can absorb a one per cent hit without much pain, or passing on price rises to customers.

The letter addresses that issue by making a request that “ … the Government provide to industry, the Parliament and the wider community a degree of certainty as to the size of the Government’s planned contribution (and the planned methodology for apportioning those funds between C/CSPs of differing types and market shares) in advance of the Bill being debated and potentially passed into law.”

“It is evident that the extent to which the Government’s contribution falls short of the total cost to industry will determine the quantum of additional costs to be absorbed by C/CSPs or passed on to Australian telecommunications users,” the letter says. “In light of these factors, we believe it would be a reasonable action on the part of Government to – at the very least – provide a firm indication of the Government contribution, expressed as a percentage of the final determined cost.”

The letter asks for an “early response” on how much money the government will contribute, given that the bill will be debated this week.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, for his part, has previously expressed a belief that Australia's food importers should be relieved of some regulations to compensate them for new food-labelling regulations. The carriers who put their name to this letter haven't tested the that principle of now new regulation.

Meanwhile, it's also emerged that the planned data retention laws will be amended to make issue of a warrant essential before probing journalists' metadata. ®

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