net in Australia
This page provides an overview of the internet in Australia.
It covers -
is a separate 21 page profile
on telecommunications in Australia and New Zealand, including
discussion of the ISP and ICH sectors, infrastructure
The profile supplements discussion in the Networks &
GII guide and the Communications
elsewhere on this site.
at a glance
The history of the internet in Australia closely resembles
that in Canada and other Western countries, characterised
adoption by academic/research institutions (with management
on a largely ad hoc basis by university network administrators)
uptake by individual enthusiasts, 'new economy' enterprises,
large public/private sector entities and then by most
normalisation of the online population, inhibited by
various digital divides
but now encompassing around two thirds of households
in Australia and New Zealand
emergence of government and nongovernment regulatory
and network management frameworks, including internet-related
communications legislation, case law on matters such
as defamation and establishment of mechanisms such as
rise and fall of 'internet exceptionalism', including
journalistic treatment of a "unique" communications
phenomenon, rhetoric about "the spirit of the net"
(or conversely about pervasive cyberdangers) and the
emergence-decay of internet-specific government agencies
such as NOIE
trajectory is similar to Australasian adoption of television,
radio and telephony.
The changing shape of the telecommunications infrastructure
and service provision in Australia (and New Zealand) is
Both countries began the 1980s with an advanced national
landline-based infrastructure in public ownership, with
satellite and cable links overseas, rising consumer demand
and a few private networks (primarily involving academic
institutions and major enterprises).
Full/part privatisation in Australia and New Zealand was
contentious. It was accompanied - with varying success
- by competition in mobile telephony and POTS. It was
also accompanied by the rollout of alternative infrastructure
for major enterprises (particularly along the Brisbane-Melbourne
and Wellington-Auckland spines) and - less successfully
- to favoured consumers in major metropolitan centres.
2002 saw major operators enjoying a comfortable duopoly,
tacit abandonment of plans for extensive rollout of broadband
across suburban and regional Australia, and rebuilding
of special-purpose high-capacity academic networks in
an echo of the 1970s.
the age of wizards
Networking in Australia during the 1970s reflected overseas
practice, with proprietary virtual private networks for
major government and business organisations (primarily
through leased lines from Telecom or Telecom New Zealand)
and smallscale file exchange by universities such as the
dialup modem-based Australian Computer Science network
(ACSnet) which used the X.25-based CSIROnet operated by
national research organisation CSIRO
but subsequently sold. A few institutions were in sporadic
contact with ARPANET via electronic mail gateways and
the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC).
The early 1980s saw establishment of a permanent Australian
university mail link to ARPANET. The dot-au ccTLD
was delegated by Jon Postel to Melbourne University's
Robert Elz in 1984. By 1986 only a handful of domains
had been established and there were only a few hundred
net-connected machines in Australia.
Adoption of the net at that time was essentially restricted
to information technology specialists within Australian
research institutions (eg CSIRO and the major universities).
That uptake coincided with various - often expensive and
unsuccessful - attempts to establish large-scale government,
academic, commercial EDI and library networks. They included
the abortive South Pacific Education & Research Network
initiative by the Australian Vice-Chancellor's Committee
(a national academic voice, fax and data network proposed
by the Carrs Report).
In June 1989 Australia gained a permanent internet connection
between the University of Melbourne and the US, with permanent
links to CSIRO and major universities across Australia
later that year as the basis of the Australian Academic
Research Network (AARNet).
The division of responsibilities among the wizards club
was reflected in establishment of 2LDs such as csiro.au,
otc.au, the X.400 mail service telememo.au and net.au
described here. Network
administration was left to engineering specialists within
CSIRO, the universities and the national telco. In 1990
Elz delegated some responsibility to Sydney University's
Geoff Huston (ie 'edu' 2LD and 'gov' 2LD).
into the wider community
Uptake of the net in Australia began to accelerate immediately
before invention of the web, with enthusiasts and a range
of organisations in the public and private sectors setting
up newsgroups, swapping files and sending person-to-person
mail. That was reflected in the growth of domain registrations.
Registration was still undertaken by volunteers, rules
were informal and proponents of alternative root schemes
gained attention later perceived as undeserved.
A range of internet service providers emerged from 1989
onwards. Initially most had a small geographical coverage
(eg within one city) and many operated on a noncommercial
basis, eg the Australian Public Access Network Association
In September 1993 Huston "on behalf of the Australian
network community" requested over a million addresses
from IANA. The expectation was that would facilitate establishment
of a national registry and reduce delays in allocations
from the US. The request underpinned establishment of
the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC)
in Brisbane as a regional NIC.
Adoption of the net by businesses and other organisations
took off after release of web browsers and publicity about
developments in the US, growing in tandem with the emergence
of the Australian ISP industry. By late 1994 "non-AARNet
users" accounted for over 20% of traffic on the academic
network and were growing rapidly, posing cost and regulatory
challenges for the AARNet administrators.
The Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee (AVCC) accordingly
transferred AARNet's commercial customers and the management
of its interstate/national links to Telstra. (AARNet2
was established in mid-1997 as a national private ATM-based
network linking reseatrch bodies and is currently being
replaced by a higher-performance GrangeNet)
Local operator connect.com.au (subsequently absorbed by
Telecom NZ) has claims to be the first true ISP from May
1994 onwards, followed by major players such as Telstra,
Ozemail and Optus. By the late 1990s Australia had around
650 ISPS (many transient, most with only a few hundred
Increasing registration numbers - and expectations about
standards, rules and accountability - were reflected in
changes from voluntary to more formal domain service delivery.
In 1996 Elz delegated responsibility for the 'com' 2LD
to a commercial unit of Melbourne University, subsequently
floated as Melbourne IT. That entity had a VeriSign-style
monopoly regarding registration of the most popular 2LD
in the dot-au space and faced similar criticism.
Movement from rule-setting and action by a small number
of volunteers and technical specialists - often operating
on a handshake basis and not readily identified by people
outside the 'club' - was evident in increasing involvement
by government and advocacy groups. The federal government
established the National Office for the Information Economy
and Office of Government Online (OGO) within what became
the Department of Communications, Information Technology
& the Arts (DCITA)
- the 'content & carriage' ministry.
That development reflected overseas models, such as the
US National Information Infrastructure Taskforce and UK
e-Envoy, and was associated with release of a range of
reports and discussion papers with a strong flavour of
In the nongovernment sphere a handful of enthusiasts established
as the local chapter of the Internet Society, in contrast
to New Zealand where the
then Internet Society of New Zealand (ISOCNZ) was unaffiliated.
And business interests coalesced around the Internet Industry
and narrower Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry
Government had been somewhat slow to grapple with the
net, arguably because it was seen as a private network
under the control of academic administrators, abuses hadn't
generated substantial case law and online activity had
not posed major commercial concerns.
That changed over the course of the 1990s, with
of the net as a key part of the national and global
information infrastructure (GII)
wars between government agencies, initiatives such as
Networking the Nation (often criticised as lacking
by business or other advocacy groups about a range of
that included trademarks, taxation, security and censorship.
change was reflected in state/territory and federal legislation,
notably relating to electronic commerce (eg the federal
Electronic Transactions Act) and content regulation. It
was also reflected in support for more formal management
of the dot-au space.
The establishment during 1997 of the nongovernment Australian
Domain Name Administration (ADNA) proved abortive and
a dot-AU Working Group under Commonwealth auspices became
bogged down. NOIE agreed
to facilitate creation of a new Australian internet self-regulatory
regime, with transfer of authority from Robert Elz to
a new entity.
1999 saw establishment of auDA,
a nongovernment body responsible for domain registration
administration as part of the federal government's co-regulatory
regime. Its operation was underpinned by the federal Telecommunications
Legislation Amendment Act 2000 and the 2000 letter
from NOIE's CEO to ICANN on Principles for the Delegation
& Administration of Country Code Top Level Domains,
the major international statement on government responsibility
for ccTLDs. auDA formally assumed responsibility for the
dot-au space from Elz and other volunteers.
As we've discussed in the separate profile on auDA,
that organisation subsequently introduced competition
in the provision of dot-au domain services and developed
a coherent set of policies through a public consultation
process (including working parties which included a Caslon
There was similar activity in New
There is no detailed and wideranging history of the net
in Australia or of phenomena such as the dot com bubble.
Most publications, online and otherwise, have had a very
narrow focus - either offering background for government
and commercial initiatives (eg the introductions in a
range of government reports about electronic commerce
and content regulation) or written for a small audience
and celebrating the achievements of particular individuals/organisations.
Points of entry to the literature include Virtual
Nation: The Internet In Australia (Sydney: UNSW Press
2005) edited by Gerard Goggin and Trevor Barr's Newmedia.com.au:
The Changing Face of Australia's Media and Communications
(St Leonards: Allen & Unwin 2000). Other works are
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