Telcos’ data retention funding in limbo

Industry group seeking ‘unequivocal assurance’ that grants will go ahead

The assessment process for telcos’ applications for financial assistance to help defray the costs of data retention remains ongoing, with any decisions on final payouts to be decided by the incoming government after the federal election

The government’s 2015-16 budget earmarked $131.3 million over three years to help telcos with the costs of complying with the data retention scheme (a figure that falls well short of the estimated costs to industry). Of the total budget allocation, $128.4 million was for grants with the remainder for administration and standards development.

A grants program was launched at the start of 2016, with ISPs and telcos able to apply for funding to help with the capital costs of compliance. Applications for funding closed on 23 February.

In April, the government was criticised for the delay in revealing to telcos how much they will receive under the scheme.

According to an Attorney-General’s Department spokesperson, the assessment of applications for funding under the scheme is still underway.

“The assessment process will continue during the caretaker period and any decisions about funding allocations will be considered by the incoming government after the election on 2 July,” the spokesperson told Computerworld Australia.

“All applicants will be notified in writing of the outcome when this process is complete. Successful applicants will be required to enter into a funding agreement prior to any payments being made.”

The data retention legislation was passed in early 2015. The regime kicked in in October of that year.

“It is disappointing that the promised data retention funding will not be distributed within the lifetime of the current parliament,” the CEO of industry group Communications Alliance, John Stanton, told Computerworld.

“It is more than 14 months after the passage of the data retention legislation and while we don’t question the diligence of the Attorney-General’s Department, we could all have reasonably expected to wrap up this process more quickly.”

Stanton said Communications Alliance will be writing to all sides of politics “seeking an unequivocal assurance that the incoming or returning government will carry through on the commitment to distribute the $128 million that was identified in the budget to help industry comply with what is a very onerous regime.”

“This legislation is now more than 12 months' old and they are still trying to work out how to fund it,” said Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton

Patton said his organisation has dozens of ISP members that are extremely frustrated with the lack of progress.

“Not only is this the most fundamentally flawed piece of legislation I’ve seen in many decades, the implementation process is worse than anything I have previously seen — full stop,” he said.

“The best that can be said (and it is not much) is that at least no lives have been lost.”