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Data-retention grants: Telstra gets $40m, Vodafone $29m, Optus $14m, NBN $1m

ISPs are being given 80 percent of their compliance costs, according to the attorney-general, under the government’s AU$128 million data-retention grants program.

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Australian Attorney-General George Brandis has announced the recipients of its AU$128 million data-retention grant pool, with Australia’s largest telecommunications providers getting tens of millions of dollars in funding to comply with the federal government’s data-retention scheme.

Under the grants [PDF], Telstra is receiving AU$39.9 million; Vodafone Australia is receiving AU$28.8 million; Optus is receiving AU$14,8 million; Vocus and M2 — now one company — are receiving AU$3.4 million combined; MNF Group is receiving AU$3 million; TPG is receiving AU$2.2 million in combination with its now-subsidiary iiNet; Exetel is receiving AU$1.8 million; and the National Broadband Network (NBN) company is receiving AU$1,067,515.

Also receiving over AU$1 million are Broadband Solutions, with AU$2.2 million; Message4U, with AU$1.3 million; BigAir, with AU$1,042,666; and The Summit Group, with AU$1,032,000.

“Today, I am pleased to announce the outcomes of the AU$128.4 million Data Retention Industry Grants Programme,” Brandis said.

“The programme delivers on the government’s commitment to make a substantial financial contribution to service providers’ upfront costs of meeting their data-retention obligations, with particular emphasis on support for smaller providers.

“Most providers will receive a grant of 80 percent of their implementation costs … service providers will receive 50 percent of their grant immediately upon signing a funding agreement. This will help businesses on their path to compliance. The remaining 50 percent will be paid upon the completion of reporting requirements.”

The AU$128.4 million data-retention grants program, announced in January, was designed to cover the costs caused by upfront compliance with the newly passed data-retention legislation.

It has been divided between 180 ISPs, with the smallest amount being AU$10,000, received by ISP Arris, and the most received by Telstra.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015, passed by the Australian government in March, came into effect last October. It will see customers’ call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data stored for two years by telcos, accessible without a warrant by law-enforcement agencies.

In April, small operators said they were continuing to do nothing about data-retention compliance due to the costs associated, according to Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton.

“Many service providers — particularly smaller operators — have told us that they are doing very little or nothing to build their compliance capabilities at the moment,” Stanton said at the time.

“Who can blame them — if they start investing in new systems now, without knowing how much of that investment will remain unfunded once the subsidies arrive, they are putting themselves at risk of bankruptcy.

“Other operators have been investing in compliance measures, but are doing so in an ongoing climate of uncertainty.”

Stanton on Monday afternoon welcomed the grants allocation announcement, saying the government has “done a reasonable job of apportioning the limited funds available”.

“Some of the larger players face heavy unfunded expenses to meet their compliance requirements,” he added, however.

“But the lengthy delay in finalising the grants process has put many services providers under immense pressure to complete, on time, the work to enable them to comply with this regime.

“The government should acknowledge that these delays have made compliance more difficult to achieve within the prescribed time frame.

“The Attorney-General should publicly commit that no action will be taken, come April next year, against any service provider that is genuinely working to comply with the regime, but has been disadvantaged by the slow pace of decision making.”

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Henry Sapiecha