The Internet Service Provider Association of SA (ISPA) also welcomes the extension of the period for the finalisation of the Films and Publications Amendment Bill to the next session of Parliament in 2007, according to a recent press statement, agreeing that the extension will give stakeholders the opportunity to discuss all the policy issues that have arisen. It is of the opinion that this decision demonstrates Government's commitment to media freedom and broad consultation.
Although Internet service providers (ISPs) rarely provide content themselves and rather facilitate connectivity, ISPA is concerned about the requirements that content should be submitted for classification prior to publishing it on the internet.
The association believes the proposed Amendment Bill to the Film and Publications Act [Act No. 65 of 1996] targets the wrong entities, presents confusing definitions, is not technology-neutral, is procedurally unfair and tramples on media freedoms. Nevertheless, it lauds Government's efforts to protect minors from sexual exploitation in the media.
The press statement makes the following recommendations:
As far as the direct impact on ISPs is concerned, the primary offending section of the draft Bill is Section 24C which potentially makes ISPs responsible for Internet chat services they don't actually run. The section should be amended to be technology-neutral instead of incorrectly targeting ISPs. If obligations are to be imposed they should apply irrespective of the medium of communication used.
The proposed Section 24C refers to "child-orientated services" without defining them. ISPA recommends that this means services which are specifically targeted at children rather than adults and limited to contact services which allow users to contact each other and exchange communications.
Obligations should be imposed on the operators of child-orientated contact services who are unlikely to be the ISP itself. Targeting the bandwidth provider rather than the person actually providing a service to children may allow the operators of child-orientated services to avoid their obligations.
The Bill also places an obligation on ISPs to provide "all their subscribers" with filtering software. ISPA supports this initiative to give customers both the know-how and the tools to protect children from potentially harmful content, and views this requirement as appropriate for home users and schools. However, child protection software is somewhat inappropriate for the corporate market. In addition, corporate solutions are more sophisticated, and supplying them at no charge to the customer could cause an ISP to incur massive costs. ISPA has also suggested that the obligation should not be to provide the software but rather to provide customers with the ability to obtain the software.