IBEC’s ICAI launch new ground-breaking Code of Practice [sarcasm]

May 4th, 2006   2:20 pm

Today, our Minister for Communications, Marine & Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey (or “Dialup Dempsey has he’s commonly known, thanks to his inaction on Broadband rollout page), announced that the Irish Cellular Industry Association (ICIA) launched a new code of practice. Let’s look at it a little closer!

First up, why are IBEC involved? IBEC’s Tom Butler (who’s previously suggested the government invest billions of euro to give us all satellite internet access, instead of broadband .. exaggerated, but the sentiment is true), is the Director of the Secretariat (fancy title, eh?). IBEC’s involvement hardly brings any real telecomms experience worth talking about, and will undoubtedly add to the cost of the ICIA. The consumer is the only person to foot this bill.

Let’s look more closely at the document.

Section 2 “Parental Controls for Minors” doesn’t suggest offering any parental controls at all but, rather, access to the usage records of the minor’s phone. Yes a positive move, and long overdue (without the need to form the ICIA amidst the threat of regulation), but don’t dress it up. Parents would like to be able to control their minor’s phone. Limit access to certain resources (certain sites, or use of whitelists), and limit access to certain functions (no SMS facility while being grounded, or no calls over 10 minutes!). Later in the document, they do propose ability to limit access to the internet, which goes some of the way to address “control”. They do stress where “permissible by law” a lot. I’m sure the Data Protection Commissioner will have some concerns, but hopefully it will be possible within the law.

Section 3 “Person to Person communications” deals with malicious calls/texts/etc. There’s absolutely nothing new in there, that I can see, except maybe the publication of the operator’s procedure. All operators dedicate a portion of their website to this already, so this section is really just to add some padding to the document.

Section 4 deals with our ould friend “Unsolicited Commercial Communications (Spam)”. The code does nothing at all (literally) in this regard, other than to pass the book to RegTel (premium rate Regulator) and the Data Protection Commissioner. There’s been 1 high profile case where the latter fined a company for this, yet we still have significant complaints in the media, and anecdotally, of wide-spread systematic abuse. ICIA are in a position to do a lot more on this, but are happy with the revenue share generated, and to pass the book. So why have this section in the Code of Practice at all?

Section 5, “Internet Access” passes the book again. The Code says that members will be bound by the ISPAI Code of Practice, which is little more than the standard Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP) that all operators already have, to protect themselves legally. This Code goes one step further and forces members to provide a facility to block all internet access. Less than perfect, this will go a long way to help parents control minors’ phone use. After that, the ICIA are happy to pass the book to the ISPAI, and laden the Code with “we can’t be responsible for what’s on the internet” sentiment. No whitelisting, no optional walled-garden.

Section 6, “Premium Rate Services”, does nothing at all other than pass the book to RegTel this time. Blocking receipt of messages in certain categories (like adult services) to minors seems like an obvious step to take, for the operators, but they will lose revenue in that case. That may appear cynical, but is it not glaringly obvious that RegTel does nothing to protect minors? Hell, they can’t even regulate rogue service providers (who subscribe people without opt-in, who spam people, who use the dirty “missed call” trick).

Finally, section 7 “Access Controls for Content Services” is a good one! They’ve very cleverly devised this to look like a lot is happening, where in reality not much is being implemented at all. Again they pass the book to RegTel for any premium rate service. They clearly state that this will not apply to SMS content. Do many spammers use MMS? No, I don’t think so either! Is MMS content governed by this practice? It doesn’t say! Are there any other push technologies? Bluetooth maybe, but you’ll be prompted to accept any images, etc. So what does it apply to then? It’s not clear!

They do propose the classification of content. However they don’t dwell at all on how this content is to be delivered. My impression from reading, and re-reading it, is that this will apply to web content only, and only apply to cooperating content providers. If this is the case, it’s absolutely meaningless. Where it might make sense is if the operator had walled-garden internet access (so minors could browse the operator’s own content, which has been classified, but can’t get out to the general internet).

In summary:
The Good

  • Ability to blanket restrict access to the Internet
  • Access to usage records of minors

The Bad

  • Not much substance
  • No mention of penalties for non-compliance
  • No new granular level of control
  • A lot of book-passing
  • Weak attempt to pacify the Minister to avoid legal regulation
  • Lack of independent involvement
  • Lack of parental involvement