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Telcos and ISPs make last ditch call for data retention costs

As data retention looks set to pass parliament within weeks, the telecommunications industry has united to make a "simple and reasonable" request for the Government to release costs for the regime.

The key players in the telco industry have united to raise questions about data retention. Claire Reilly/CNET

The who's-who of the Australian telecommunications industry have written to the Government in a bid to clarify the cost of data retention before legislation is debated in Parliament this week.

The eleventh-hour letter comes amidst speculation that the bill could pass as early as next week. The latest developments come after the Government announced further amendments to the bill requiring warrants to access metadata identifying journalists' sources -- an attempt on the part of Prime Minister Tony Abbott to secure support of the bill from the Opposition.

Despite expectations for the swift passage of the legislation, 16 of the top telecommunications executives in Australia have lent their weight to calls for further details around costing for a data retention scheme. The signatories include Telstra CEO David Thodey, Optus Chairman Paul O'Sullivan, Vodafone CEO Iñaki Berroeta and iiNET CEO David Buckingham, as well as leaders of a number of large and midweight telcos and ISPs.

In the letter, the industry leaders express their "simple and reasonable" request that the Government provide certainty on how much it will contribute towards the upfront expenses required to implement a data retention scheme.

"We note that the Government has variously indicated it will make a 'reasonable' or 'substantial' contribution to these costs -- which might exceed $300 million, according to estimates provided by the consultants commissioned by the Government," the letter reads.

"The extent to which the Government's contribution falls short of the total cost to industry will determine the quantum of additional costs to be absorbed by C/CSPs [carriers or carriage service providers] or passed on to Australian telecommunications users."

The industry concerns over cost have been reiterated by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, a staunch opponent of the proposed data retention laws.

Speaking to the ABC, Mr Ludlam said he hadn't given up on fighting the bill, despite his view that "things are just being done by handshake" to get the bill amended and, ultimately, passed into law.

"I've never seen a bill brought in before where the Government couldn't define how much it was going to cost and who is going to pay," he said.

Mr Ludlam also took issue with the amendments raised by the Prime Minister to increase oversight for access to journalists' metadata, saying that "intrusive snooping...should require a warrant whether you're a journalist or not."