The Internet Service Providers’ Association of Ireland (ISPAI) was established at an inaugural meeting held in Dublin at Shelbourne Hotel, in April 1997 by the leading Irish Internet Service Providers operating at that time: Telecom Internet, EuNet, Club Internet, Indigo and Ireland On-line.
On 5th of May 1998 the Internet Service Providers’ Association of Ireland is registered as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee of its members, under Company Number 285632.
The aim of the Association is to provide one voice for the Irish ISP Industry at National, International and EU level. At present, the ISPAI, among other responsibilities, maintains a Code of Practice and Ethics recognised as a role model in the EU and operates a fully functioning and efficient Internet Hotline Service. ISPs agree to adhere to the Code of Practice and Ethics when they become members of the ISPAI.
Each one of the 42 members of the Association is an Internet Service Provider in the Irish market. Each member nominates one representative to attend the board meetings, which are held on a regular basis, and also makes a financial contribution to the running of the Association and a commitment to develop and enforce the necessary Code of Practice, which set a common minimum standard of Acceptable Usage Policy.
Participation in the ISPAI has enabled the members to influence Internet Policy development at National and International level in many significant ways. Irish Government Policy is also shifting towards a single point-of-contact with the Industry through the Internet Service Providers’ Association of Ireland, on pan-industry issues.
The ISPAI represents the Industry on the Government’s Safer Internet Advisory Committee, appointed by the Minister for Justice.
As the Association has a not-for-profit activity it relies completely on the contributions of its members. ISPAI part-funds, from its financial resources, the operations of Hotline.ie – a service, launched in November 1999, which provides an anonymous and secure reporting platform to members of the public who accidentally uncover illegal content on the Internet, particularly Child Sexual Abuse Material or activities relating to the sexual exploitation of children. Currently, Hotline.ie is also co-financed by the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility.
This structure of self-regulation with Government oversight resulted from the recommendations of the Working Group on the Illegal and Harmful Use of the Internet, which was established in February 1997 by the Minister for Justice at the request of the Taoiseach. The report and recommendations of the Working Group were published in 1998.
The Report set the broad parameters within which downside issues associated with the Internet could be addressed, recommending that these should be dealt with through a system of self-regulation of the ISP Industry, an Industry funded Hotline for the public to report suspected illegal content, the establishment of an agreed common Code of Practice for the Industry and an overseeing Internet Advisory Board. The Board comprised of representatives of a broad base of stakeholders: Government, Gardai, Child Advocacy, Education Development, Community Groups, Academia, Industry and legal profession.
The Internet Service Providers’ Association of Ireland (ISPAI), was the only organisation at that time with the relevant members and means, thus it was approached and asked to coordinate the Industry implementation of the Working Group’s recommendations.
At the time of establishment ISPAI’s objectives were: lobbying for greater International bandwidth, enhancing overall Internet performance to make it more attractive to business in order to promote market growth and engaging with Government on issues of common interest to its Members.
With the growing Government interest in dealing with the downside issues and introducing some form of content regulation, the focus shifted to: establishing an Internet Hotline, developing and agreeing an ISP Code of Practice and Ethics and coordinating the self-regulatory regime this required. Extensive negotiation with the stakeholders mentioned above and other relevant institutions ensued to arrive at the situation as it currently operates.
With the evolution of the Internet and its rapid adoption to almost ubiquitous use by the public, in 2008, the Minister for Justice, established a specialist Office for Internet Safety (OIS) within his department. The Internet Advisory Board was reconstituted as an Advisory Committee to the OIS. Today, this is known as the Safer Internet Advisory Committee and it continues to have a broad stakeholder base which has changed with time to meet the challenges now posed by a mobile always-connected, information-rich, online-socialised public.
The main issues OIS and ISAC are facing today, remain surprisingly similar to those considered at the outset but with the added dimensions of international Social Networks, personalisation and mobility of access devices, the saturation level use of online services by the public and how particularly children can be educated into this digital era while being protected from the downside issues generated by misuse of the Internet’s capabilities.