Telstra launches outbound voice calling on Google Nest devices, iPhone eSIM support


Telstra says it is the first mobile carrier in the world to support voice-activated outbound calls on Google Nest and Home devices.

The telco said that its mobile customers could link up to six mobile services to a compatible Google Assistant device and synchronise contacts. A Google Mini, Home, Home Max or Hub can be used to dial by contact or business name, or call a particular number.

Google Assistant can be trained to recognise up to six individuals’ voices using its Voice Match feature.

Telstra will begin to roll out the service to customers from today.

“Voice technology is growing rapidly in Australia with smart speakers in over 1.35M Australian households, and two-thirds of Australian owners admitting to using their smart speaker daily,” said Telstra connected devices and accessories principal, Steve Dance.




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NBN cuts entry-level broadband prices, nixes differential pricing for video


NBN Co has detailed a price cut for entry-level broadband services that could make it more economical for retail service providers (RSPs) to offer ADSL-equivalent plans.

The company said it planned to shave at least $16.80 off the additional monthly charge levied on entry-level services once an extremely low usage threshold is passed.

NBN Co in June launched an industry consultation on its wholesale broadband pricing, with the company indicating it wanted to encourage the take-up of higher speed services as well as make NBN services more attractive to low-income households.

The company today revealed it had launched a second round of consultation, with NBN Co indicating it would move to quickly cut the wholesale pricing of low-end broadband services.

The company has a complex pricing structure for its entry-level 12Mbps services. A basic service with 150Kbps of included capacity has an effective wholesale price of $22.50. That can be used to serve households that are only interested in voice services or that have very low data needs.




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Optus keen to access government’s face-matching service


Optus has endorsed the creation of a national biometrics system that will offer services based on a range of facial images held by federal, state and territory bodies.

The government earlier this year resurrected two bills that lapsed when parliament was dissolved in preparation for the federal election.

The bills will create a new system (dubbed ‘The Capability’) with a hub and spoke architecture that will facilitate access to a range of separately maintained databases containing facial images, such as state and territory driver’s licence databases. A range of services will be delivered through the system, including facial verification and facial identification services.

The government has indicated it is keen to have the enabling federal legislation passed before the end of 2019. Eventual private sector access to some services has long been on the government’s radar.

While the Facial Identification Service (FIS) will be restricted to law enforcement, anti-corruption and intelligence agencies, the Face Verification Service (FVS), the first phase of which launched in 2016, will potentially be used by non-government organisations.




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NBN not worth the money it cost to build it, Vocus chief executive says


Consumers are paying the price for government rules designed to protect NBN Co’s monopoly and help ensure it recovers the cost of building its network, Vocus Group chief executive Kevin Russell has argued.

“The real market value of the NBN is far, far less than what it cost to build,” the CEO said today. NBN Co’s decision-making “is driven as a monopoly targeting financial returns, rather than consumer needs and market reality.”

In remarks prepared for the ACCANect conference of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, the Vocus CEO said that because NBN Co’s financial targets are based on recovering the network’s build cost, “prices are far higher than would be achievable in a market-led environment.”

The Vocus chief executive took aim at NBN Co both over its prices and its approach to wholesale pricing.

In the ADSL era, the prices charged by Dodo, which is owned by Vocus, consistently trended downwards, he said. “This is in stark contrast to Dodo’s NBN plans, where all we have done is continually put prices up, to cover NBN’s increasing wholesale costs,” the CEO said.




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Inquiry to examine UK-style age verification for porn access


The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has launched in inquiry into age verification mechanisms for access to online gambling and pornography services.

“While customers must verify their age within 14 days to continue using an online wagering account, an age verification process is not required at all for customers to access online pornography,” the committee’s chair, Liberal National MP Andrew Wallace, said in a statement.

“This is concerning, as research shows that accessing pornography negatively influences young peoples’ attitudes to sex, sexuality and relationships.”

The terms of reference for the inquiry include examining the potential of age verification as a mechanism for protecting minors online, federal and state laws that relate to age verification requirements and “the potential benefits of further online age verification requirements, including to protect children from potential harm, and business and non-government organisations from reputation, operational and legal risks”.

The inquiry will also examine potential risks and unintended consequences, including possible privacy breaches and freedom of expression.




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Data retention should stretch to seven years, Queensland Police says


The Queensland Police Service says that there is a case for extending from 24 months to seven years the length that telcos need to retain ‘metadata’ to comply with Australia’s data retention regime.

The data retention regime is currently subject to statutory review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). In a submission to the committee’s inquiry, QPS states that in its view the current dataset that telcos must retain to comply with the data retention regime is appropriate.

That data (sometimes described by the government as ‘metadata’ or ‘historical telecommunications data’) covers a range of information about communications, but not the ‘contents’ of the communication (e.g. the words spoken during a call or the body of an email). It includes a range of subscriber and device details as well as the source, destination, timing and duration of a communication, and the location of equipment used for the communication.

QPS said that a review of its 2017-18 activity revealed that in less than 6 per cent of the times that it sought access to metadata, the data involved was over 24 months old.

On the vast majority of occasions the data sought was 0-3 months old, QPS said. However, “despite the relatively small number” of occasions where the data sought was more than 24 months old “they nevertheless form a vital part of some notable investigations in this State”.




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Optus CEO details ‘NBN champion’ program to combat migration woes


Optus says it is working to improve the experience of migrating to the NBN, with the telco’s CEO, Allen Lew, today revealing details of an initiative to smooth the transition to the new network.

In notes prepared for an address to ACCANect, the conference of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), Lew revealed that the telco has invested “tens of millions of dollars” in the “Optus NBN champion” program.

The program is designed to address a range of frustrations encountered by customers during the migration to the NBN. Those include confusion caused by the hand-off between sub-contractors, NBN Co and retail service providers (RSPs), struggles with installation and chasing answers to questions, lengthy activation processes, and a lack of visibility of the process for customers.

“We are proactively reaching out to existing customers who are migrating to the NBN to reassure them that one person will manage their order from receipt right through to completion and for the first 30 days of activation,” Lew said.

“This isn’t a promise to do; we have been embedding this since May and slowly building scale so that we can offer it to all our customers.”




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What we know so far about the unusual Windows 10 1909


Microsoft has acknowledged that this fall’s “feature upgrade” for Windows 10 will be virtually identical to the already-available version 1903 released in May.

“19H1 and 19H2 share the same servicing content. That means they share the same Cumulative Update package,” Dona Sarkar and Brandon LeBlanc, the spokespeople for Microsoft’s Windows Insider beta testing program, wrote last week in a post to their group’s blog.

Sarkar and LeBlanc referenced 19H1 and 19H2 – better known perhaps as 1903 and 1909, respectively, in Microsoft’s four-number labeling format – because their team had just released those builds to the Release Preview ring, where a subgroup of all program participants do a last test of betas.

Although Sarkar and LeBlanc did not explicitly say so – Microsoft rarely puts things plainly – their explanation confirmed that the fall “upgrade,” 1909, will be nothing like previous Windows 10 editions. Instead, it will be a barely changed retread of the spring’s 1903.

That Windows 10 1909 will resemble an old style “service pack” was not news: Last month, Sarkar and LeBlanc touted the refresh’s small number of features and their even smaller import. Both were central to the characterization of 1909 as a service pack, as that format rarely included new features but instead collected past updates. (Microsoft’s last service pack was for Windows 7, issued in early 2011.)

The two went into even greater detail about why Insider delivered two builds, 191H/1903 and 192H/1909, to the Release Preview ring.

“For the small subset of Windows Insiders (the 10%) in Release Preview who were given the option to install 19H2, an enablement package is downloaded from Windows Update that turns on the 19H2 features,” Sarkar and LeBlanc wrote. “This changes the build number for the OS from 19H1 Build 18362 to 19H2 Build 18363. Because they use the same servicing content, the build revision number (the number that comes after the dot) will always match between 19H1 and 19H2. As we continue to test our servicing packages in the Release Preview ring, Insiders on 19H1 and 19H2 will get a single Cumulative Update with the same fixes.”

It’s parsing time

There is worthwhile information in what Sarkar and LeBlanc said in the quotes above. It’s just that it’s buried in terminology no one outside Microsoft’s development team needs to know, surrounded by unnecessary verbiage that few understand or find useful.

Here are the bits that, teased from the rest, proved important.

  • 19H1 and 19H2 share the same servicing content. This is actually fairly clear; the two “upgrades” 1903 and 1909 that are now being tested and will be released this fall, presumably simultaneously, are identical in content.




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ISPs ordered to continue blocking sites hosting Christchurch terror footage


Major Australian Internet service providers (ISPs) have been directed to continue blocking access to eight sites that host footage of the Christchurch terrorist attacks or the manifesto written by the alleged attacker.

In the wake of the Christchurch attacks in March, major telcos including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone blocked a range of sites that hosted copies of the footage originally streamed by the alleged gunman on Facebook Live. Sites including 4chan, 8chan, Kiwi Farms, Encyclopaedia Dramatica, Live Leak, Voat and Zerohedge were believed to be blocked, at least temporarily, by some or all of the ISPs.

“Australian internet service providers acted quickly and responsibly in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch in March this year to block websites that were hosting this harmful material,” communications minister Paul Fletcher said today.

“ISPs called on the government to provide them with certainty and clarity in taking the action they did, and today, we are providing that certainty.”

The minister said that the eSafety Commissioner had directed ISPs to continue blocking a list of eight websites. The blocks will last at least six months, following which the commissioner will review the sites and remove from the list those that have taken down copies of the footage or manifesto.

The government said that the commissioner is working with telcos on a protocol for rapid takedowns of terror material during crisis events. Devising such arrangements was a recommendation of the Australian Taskforce To Combat Terrorist And Extreme Violent Material Online. The taskforce said that ultimately the government should move to introduce legislation to “establish a content blocking framework for terrorist and extreme violent material online in crisis events”.

In August Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an OECD initiative that he said would “strengthen transparency by tech companies in a bid to prevent online terrorist activity”.

“I’m very pleased to say that Australia, together with New Zealand and the OECD, is funding a project to develop Voluntary Transparency Reporting Protocols on preventing, detecting, and removing terrorist and violent extremist content from online platforms. We welcome and encourage further support for this project,” a statement released at the time by the PM said.

“This work will establish standards and provide clarity about how online platforms are protecting their users, and help deliver commitments under the Christchurch Call to implement regular and transparent public reporting in a way that is measurable and supported by clear methodology,” Morrison said.

“Digital industry will benefit from establishing a global level playing field. The project will assist to reduce the risk of further unilateral action at national levels, avoid fragmentation of the regulatory landscape and reduce reporting burdens for online platforms.”

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Tags governmentTelecommunicationseSafety CommissionerChristchurch Call




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