Nearly a third of Irish internet users will soon be offered a new service blocking inappropriate web content from their homes.
Internet service provider UPC has said the move is in response to overwhelming consumer demand and should be in place for its 350,000 customers from March.
The vast majority of parents told the company in a survey they were concerned about unsuitable content and the company believe that in a “brave new world of technology” the customers’ concerns must be paramount.
"It isn't really based on any political or lobbying agenda but what we have heard from our customers. It's an area in which we have been very much engaged with over the last few years in terms of child protection," said Mark Coan, director of marketing and sales.
“The main thing that we are hearing is that parents are trying to get an appropriate level of access in the home. There appears to be a clear demand for it, particularly in the family segment.”
Customers will be contacted to inform them of the service once it is up and running but it will be an opt-in facility only, meaning any content restriction would effectively be requested by individual consumers rather than imposed.
Based on an existing UK model, a third party company compiles and maintains a database of websites deemed unsuitable and the router blocks access.
According to research conducted by UPC, the average amount of devices in the home that can access the internet is now 4.7, doubling every four years. Mr Coan said 92 per cent of households liked the idea of a tool to control access, although only just over half actually installed any software. A further 97 per cent said they were worried their children had access to inappropriate material.
“It’s a brave new world in terms of technology so we are trying to listen to our customers,” he said.
It is a significant development and one that could propel other service providers to follow suit. UPC has over 50 per cent market share of fixed national broadband in major urban areas, with 29 per cent nationally, compared to Eircom’s 36.9 per cent and Vodafone’s 16.9 per cent.
However, while content is blocked, Mr Coan said it should not be considered an issue of censorship.
“I think we are very aware of our responsibilities in that area. It’s very much an opt-in only service so by making it based on individual consumer choice I think we have met the needs for consumers if they need it but also avoid any potential implications of censorship,” he said.
“The nature of this service is very much optional because what we wanted to do is have something where people can opt-in. They can go to their online account and press a button and that will filter out any inappropriate content for minors.”
Don Myers, president of the National Parents Council (post primary) said the initiative is a welcome move in the right direction but cautioned that when it comes to internet related concerns, cyber-bullying remained the outstanding issue today.