About two months ago, I was sent a particularly nasty Email from a reader who accused me of being a "mouthpiece" for the Internet Service Provider's Association (ISPA). After flailing myself vigorously for supporting the nasty group of volunteers, I continued my coverage of ISPA's actions, despite several guilt-ridden moments racking myself for justification.
But last week my racking was rewarded as ISPA faced a difficult moment in its short history. At last I thought, I can report the bad news, just like my other colleagues on PC Week.
Netcom's UK managing director, David Clarke, said the organisation which has prompted the UK and European governments into action over child porn and tax dodging, was "unprofessional". The mouthpiece had been silenced.
It is true that ISPA has been around for less than a year and has only one full time member of staff. It's also true that all but one of its employees have other - "main" jobs. But "unprofessional" seemed a bit harsh.
The story, on reflection, will be extremely embarrassing for ISPA. When it was invited by Meridian TV to comment on a company which provided uncensored access to the Internet, the press officer, who has never been employed as a press officer before, got the name of the company wrong and said Netcom instead of NetLink.com. He soon discovered that such unprofessionalism would severely damage ISPA's relationship with its largest member. Weeks later the decision was made and Netcom resigned from ISPA.
The damage to one of the countries most vigorous organisations in the IT industry will be severe. Not only is the word "unprofessional" an adjective that conjures up images of Del and Rodney flogging their services "down the Ol' Kent Road", but it is a catalyst for further criticism aimed at the aesthetics of the organisation. But isn't that missing the point.
The Internet industry in this country is a mess. There is no other group within the IT sector that has so much bitching and brawling going on over who should do what and why. Rows over who's the best and who's the cheapest, not to mention varying opinions on how to police the Net, have made enemies of the very people who run it.
ISPA is still working hard to unite the industry, but there are a lot of tiny minds out there.
Sure ISPA has made mistakes, but it has taken on a central role for journalists to obtain information about the industry and the people who run it. It has also acted as a punch bag for those who wanted to scream at the industry and is still reeling from some of the blows.
How many countries can say they have a central body representing the nation's on-line interests? Even the US hasn't bothered itself, leaving all the donkey-work to libertarian organisations to fight the CDA and Clinton's plans to gag us.
Netcom has, in my opinion, made a decision based on its own mandate for success. Like other large companies, it cannot bear to be bolstered by the little guy and is capable of spitting them out if things go wrong.
ISPA's only mandate is to unite the industry and deal with the issues that seek to undermine it. It should be given a chance.
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