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Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
Information technology pricing
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Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
CHAIR (Mr Champion)
Neville, Paul, MP
Prentice, Jane, MP
Husic, Ed, MP
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Content WindowStanding Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
Information technology pricing
HAWKINS, Mr Wayne, Disability Policy Advisor, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network
LAWRENCE, Ms Una, Director of Policy and Campaigns, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network
TURNER, Ms Erin, Policy and Campaigns Officer, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network
Committee met at 17:05
CHAIR ( Mr Champion ): I welcome representatives of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that the hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the House itself. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. We have received a submission from your organisation, and we thank you for that. Are there any additions or amendments that you would like to make to that statement.
Ms Turner : No.
CHAIR: If not, you can give a short opening statement and then we will have questions.
Ms Turner : Firstly I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to appear. ACCAN, as you may know, is the peak body representing consumers on telecommunications, broadband and emerging new communications services. In our written submission, we have focussed on the impact of the high cost of hardware and software on consumers, but particularly vulnerable consumers. I would like to make some initial comments and then allow my colleague Wayne Hawkins to provide a brief introduction on how IT pricing affects people with disability.
As we explored in a previous hearing, Australians often pay more for information technology than people in other countries. Prices are influenced by a range of complex factors but in some cases companies with significant market power are charging higher prices in Australia simply because they can. With the help of the internet, consumers are aware of this and they are rightly frustrated. In response to high local prices, some consumers are shopping abroad. They might make a purchase while travelling, shop through online stores or, in cases where companies attempt to block Australians from accessing lower prices, consumers can use virtual private network technology or a third party service to access goods from the UK or the US at cheaper prices.
What these consumers may not know is that Australian consumer law possibly does not extend to these international purchases or, if it does, the law would be extremely difficult to enforce. This matters because if something goes wrong it can be difficult to seek redress. These consumers may not have access to repairs, refunds or replacements, as they would if they had purchased the product in Australia. The committee can protect these consumers by recommending that government and the appropriate bodies encourage the development of international warranties for products sold by international companies.
IT products have become essential to our lives. Today we use computers to search for a job, make a Medicare claim, or apply for tertiary education. But people with low incomes are struggling to pay the basics, like rent and utility bills. This suggests that IT products maybe unaffordable for many or, conversely, due to the high cost of IT products essential for work, study or socialising, people are having difficulty paying for other essential goods. There are many people in our communities who do not have a spare $209 to pay for the Microsoft Office program and would benefit from the lower price of $149 seen in the USA. This applies to small businesses as well, a portion of which have little choice about the type of IT products they purchase. Small businesses and sole operators who work in graphic design, for example, see Adobe products as must-haves. Alternative products are either unsuitable, incompatible or not taught to those who are studying their craft. This gives Adobe significant market power, allowing them to charge Australian small businesses hundreds to thousands of dollars more than their counterparts in other countries. For example, the Adobe Creative Suite sells for $1,349 more in the Australian Adobe small and medium business store than it does in the US store. These price differences add up. They are not just frustrating for consumers who can see but not easily access more affordable prices for essential products; they add to the cost of doing business.
Mr Hawkins : I reiterate our gratitude at being able to come and present at the hearing. Clearly ACCAN sees IT pricing discrepancies as a very important issue.
Mr NEVILLE: You are most welcome. We love having you here.
Mrs PRENTICE: Paul has just expressed our views exactly.
Mr NEVILLE: You may be able to help us with the sort of frank figures that you have got at your fingertips. It is something we have been denied, so we thank you very much.
Mr Hawkins : That is good to hear. Erin did a great job in getting the information together for our submission. As she has just identified, the higher price that consumers in Australia pay is detrimental to all consumers, but there is a significantly higher impact on vulnerable consumers and particularly consumers with disability. The research that is available shows us that Australians living with disability are overrepresented in the low income socioeconomic groupings, and these higher prices significantly impede their access to all of the vital services that are now being provided online with telecommunications. It is really critical for us to see that this is looked at and investigated as to what can be done.
Some of the items that we have identified in the submission with regard to the assistive technology that people like myself—people who are blind—use such as the braille readers, braille displays, are considerably more expensive in Australia. We have spoken with Humanware who provide a lot of the of the blind and vision-impaired assistive technology in Australia, and their explanation of the reason for the higher cost seemed reasonable. They have two salespeople in Australia that service the entire continent. Both of those salespeople are blind, which I think is to be commended—it is fantastic that they are employing people with disability. But these extremely high prices for the equipment that people need to access telecommunications and the internet to do all of those things that Erin just listed—apply for jobs, keep in contact with family and friends and access government services—are a real problem. If they can save a couple of thousand dollars from what the price is in Australia by buying it overseas then that is fantastic, but when they do that they do not have backup warranty and service agreements, so then they are disadvantaged if something goes wrong with the equipment.
There are other examples that I think are more telling in regard to the discrepancy. One of those from my own personal experience is with the screen reading software that I use to use the computer, which is called JAWS. JAWS has a digital download in the US, which is where it is manufactured. It is $1095 as a digital download. To get it in Australia as a digital download it is $1750. That is a good $600 difference for a product that essentially comes with no backup service, no hardware, nothing—it is just a digital download. One thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars for somebody who is on the disability support pension is a huge amount of money. I lost my vision in middle age and thankfully I had worked for my whole life, so I was able to afford to buy JAWS when I needed it. But even then, $1700 is a big outlay. At that time I had to reinvent myself and move into a completely different career path—I could not do that without having access to the internet and a computer to go back to university and retrain. One thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars is a very big outlay for somebody who is essentially looking for work. From my personal experience, that is a really clear example of how in Australia these prices really disadvantage consumers with disability.
One of the things that Erin mentioned in our submission, which is one of the possible solutions that we see to some of this inequity in pricing, is the adoption of a public policy for accessible public procurement of ICT. We see that as being a step with a number of great outcomes. It would provide greater employment opportunities for people if all of the accessible ICT that the government procured were available and usable by all Australians. It would provide great employment opportunities for people with disabilities, a statistic that is unfortunately declining in the public sector. The number of Australians with disabilities that are working in the APS has actually declined over the last 10 years, which is going counter to everything else that we are trying to do in society, trying to get people with disability more included.
So there is that benefit of a public procurement policy, but there is also the roll-on effect, which is that it would drive the market in providing more accessible equipment. Theoretically the roll-on effect of that would be that prices across the board would come down for accessible technology, and hopefully the prices of inaccessible products would go up because there would be less demand for them. There would be a market force that drove greater accessibility and more inclusive design, and that would be a way we could start limiting some of these higher prices that are being charged to Australian consumers, if the market had a broader base of accessible equipment, products and services. I know that is in our submission. I am happy to any questions on that if you have any.
CHAIR: I was particularly shocked about the prices paid for basically vital bits of technology that you need to work or engage with friends and family or to live. Given that there is just one company, and you have said that they have costs to recover and the like—and I presume they are not a large company; they are a domestic Australian company that are just trying to cover their costs—do you see that there is a role in the National Disability Insurance Scheme? You have talked a bit about government IT procurement. Do you think that the only way of bringing down the cost is perhaps in one small area, notwithstanding that there are large price differentials in every other area, which may or may not be because of price discrimination? In this area of technology for people with a disability, do you foresee government action being the only way to resolve those cost differentials, or do you still think there is a healthy profit in there somewhere?
Mr Hawkins : I think that universal design is the answer to this for all the stakeholders—government, manufacturers and retailers. If people are manufacturing and offering for sale—and the government is procuring—equipment which is accessible and usable by all Australians, then that is going to have a huge impact on the market. It is going to drive the market, and who wants to be making a product and trying to sell a product that nobody wants because it does not have universal design features, and only a small segment of the market can use it? I think that is one of the reasons why we have such high prices for these assistive technologies now, because there is a limited marketplace for them, for people who are using things like braille devices. That is probably not going to change. Hopefully there will be fewer people in the future that need braille devices. But, on the universal design aspect of things, we see it in the Apple products—although personally I am not a fan of Apple because of its proprietary nature, but that is neither here nor there—in the fact that, out of the box, they provide products that are accessible to a lot of people with disabilities. That universal design feature makes a huge impact on what other manufacturers are going to do. There are apps for Android phones now that make them as accessible as iPhones. There is new technology that is coming out in other areas. The Windows phone is going to be very accessible, and that is because Apple led the market with the universal design and that has been incorporated by other manufacturers because they see there is a market for it and why would they not want to get involved in that. I think the power of government procurement is that it speeds that process up.
Ms Turner : Australia is a couple of steps behind the rest of the world on the issue of public procurement from the government's point of view. America has had a public procurement policy for accessible equipment for a number of decades now.
CHAIR: Presumably that helps employment options as well—
Ms Turner : It does.
CHAIR: Having the accessible IT then drives the employment options.
Mrs PRENTICE: Is that what you meant by the last sentence in the executive summary, about 'the government can take immediate action by adopting a whole of government accessible IT procurement policy?'
Ms Turner : That is correct, yes.
CHAIR: Presumably that would have a cost involved, too.
Ms Turner : It would.
CHAIR: Do you have any idea about what that might be?
Ms Turner : It is hard to tell. We have actually just released a research report on public procurement in other countries and Australia which elaborates on it a little bit.
Mr Hawkins : I think there is a cost. As can be seen by the American example, section 508 in their legislation which requires public procurement of accessible ICT has really caused increased employment levels of people with disability in the public sector in the US—which is the opposite of what is happening here in Australia, where it is almost half what it was 10 years ago. It has gone from about five per cent to just below three per cent employment of people with disabilities in the Australian Public Service. Whilst there are economic costs up front, there are productivity benefits in having large numbers of people who are currently essentially dependent on social welfare being put into the workforce. Now there are opportunities for them to work, because the government has made the workplace more accessible. Those initial costs would be recouped.
CHAIR: And presumably public purchasing drives the prices down, which makes it accessible for private purchasers.
Ms Turner : In the long term, we would say, 'Expect to see a lot of innovation and lower prices across the market.'
Mr NEVILLE: Thank you for the submission, by the way. It is very good, very comprehensive. I took particular note of your analysis of the Adobe prices. Perhaps it is the cynic coming out in me, but you have a percentage comparison and it seems to me that the magic figure is 34 per cent.
Ms Turner : It does seem fairly consistent there, doesn't it?
Mr NEVILLE: It sounds like, 'You Aussies are going to pay 34 per cent more.' When you go to the braille products, you note that we pay a lot more than the US consumers do. But the Canadians pay roughly the same as us; perhaps a bit less. They are sort of between us and the US. Have you got these comparisons for other companies?
Ms Turner : No, we have not. We decided to focus on two case studies to really highlight what we see as particular problems in different areas. It was a very difficult one.
Mr NEVILLE: You do not have any other data like this?
Ms Turner : We could certainly do some extra investigations, take something on notice, if you would like us to.
Mr NEVILLE: Very much so, because that is the core of where we are at.
Ms Turner : Is there anything in particular? The thing we found—
Mr NEVILLE: You just mentioned before that you are doing a report. What is that on?
Ms Turner : That is on accessible public procurement, possibly in Australia but also with international examples.
Mr NEVILLE: Could you do us a small summary of that as a supplementary submission?
Ms Turner : We would be happy to forward the report on. We have sent it through to I think Sonya.
CHAIR: It is on file now.
Ms Turner : We would be very happy to get you copies as well.
Mr NEVILLE: In that case, I move that we take it as an exhibit.
CHAIR: So moved and accepted.
Mr NEVILLE: You are one of the organisations that are challenging the manufacturers. What sort of answers do they give you? Do they say it is the remoteness of Australia? I understood that, though we are not a big market, on a per capita basis we are up with the best in the world as consumers. What sort of explanations do you get? Your people are right at the coalface, you are dealing with people with disabilities and, as Wayne said in his evidence a few minutes ago, those amounts of money that are in the difference column make a profound impact on people on a disability pension or limited income. Now you have companies, for example, trying to get all their consumers to pay by email and various e-payment type arrangements, so it is going to become more and more important for everyone to have some form of computer connection. It is going to impact on low-income earners obviously more than others. No doubt you have challenged this. I would like to get the flavour of what the companies say to you when you take them on.
Ms Turner : Unfortunately, Humanware has been the only company we have been able to have very frank discussions with about a pricing arrangement. The rest of the information we have as much as the committee has. This is one of the reasons that we really commend the committee's efforts to try and get the big companies here to speak frankly about their pricing structures and whether international price discrimination plays a role in how they set their prices. Ultimately as a consumer organisation we hear a lot from consumers, particularly at the coalface like you say, and they are extremely frustrated by this issue, especially as the internet opens the world up. We can see prices are much cheaper elsewhere and in a lot of cases we just cannot access them. It is extremely frustrating.
Mr Hawkins : We had discussions with Humanware. They are the ones with the Braille hardware. This one is BrailleNote, the product we are talking about, where it is essentially a laptop without a screen and instead of a screen it has a Braille display at the bottom so that you can read the Braille.
Mr NEVILLE: So nodules lift.
Mr Hawkins : If you would like to have a look, at the bottom there are the cells where the Braille comes up. When I turn it on, you can see that the Braille has come up along the bottom. When you have the sound off it is just the Braille and as you type the Braille comes up or if you are reading a document which is stored in here through pushing the button down here.
Mr NEVILLE: Things like that are critical to you, aren't they? You are joining other blind people.
Mr Hawkins : Yes. You could buy a car with what this costs; they are really expensive. There are services and there are funding ways for people to get this. I got this from JobAccess.
CHAIR: How much would it be new?
Mr Hawkins : This is about $9,000, the upfront cost.
Ms Turner : About half a disability pension total in a year.
Mr HUSIC: So those things sell in the US for $6,379, in Canada for $6,995 and in Australia for $8,750, $2,371 more than in the US.
Mr Hawkins : We had a meeting and Erin and I sat down with two of the people from Humanware, their Asia-Pacific manager and also one of their salespeople who is also a blind person and does the follow-up training and support for people who buy their products. In that discussion it became apparent that, yes, there is a price differential for some of their equipment, but primarily it appeared to us to be because of the high cost of servicing Australia. In the first instance there is not a huge market for Braille equipment and there are two people servicing the whole country, and they do training and follow-up. So if someone out in the outback gets a BrailleNote they will go out there and train them on how to use it. So there are servicing expenses which probably, given the greater size of the market in the US, have an impact on that price differential.
The ironic thing is that this product was invented and is manufactured in New Zealand. Unfortunately, we were not able to get any pricing from Humanware in New Zealand. What does it cost if you buy it around the corner where they are actually making it? There are some legitimate reasons why there is a price differential, but the example of the JAWS software, which is from an American company that we talked about, there is $650 price difference on a digital download. There is no training, there is no coming to your home to install it or set it up or show you how to use it; it is literally a digital download that you then load onto your computer. To me those are the kinds of things that are very questionable. While we gave the Humanware thing as an example in our submission, and I think it is important to look at that, the digital download aspect is something that really does not add up. Why would they be $600? Certainly the cost of transferring the data from the US to Australia does not cost $600, so where does that difference come from?
Mr NEVILLE: Have you tried to access any of this equipment via Asia? If so, what are the price differentials like over there? Are they cheaper, dearer or about the same as Australia?
Ms Turner : A lot of the Asian products are built specifically for the Asian market, so the keyboards sit differently or the products are not in English. I think that is why a lot of—
Mr NEVILLE: Singapore, for example, probably would be in English, wouldn't it?
Mr Hawkins : The Humanware products range—they do it across Asia as well, but, as Erin said, it is specific to the Asian market. It is the same team: the Asia-Pacific manager that we spoke with services Asia as well as Australia.
CHAIR: So it really depends on the follow up that you are getting as opposed to the download.
Mr Hawkins : With this hardware example, yes. It might be hard for them to actually identify that it is that much of a cost difference for the follow-up, but when Erin and I finished that meeting with them, I think we both understood that perhaps there are some legitimate reasons behind that cost differential, whereas with other things—such as the Adobe products that are in our submission, the JAWS software, the Nokia mobile neckloop for the hearing impaired—there does not appear to be an easily understood reason why there is such a difference in pricing.
Mr NEVILLE: With these Adobe products—I am familiar with only a handful of them—are they of the type that require servicing? For example, one of the dearest there is a PageMaker. That is just a desktop program, isn't it?
Ms Turner : From my very limited understanding, I think it is used specifically by technical writers to develop complex documents. A lot of these ones in the small and medium business store are particularly for creative small businesses, so people in graphic design or architecture might be making films and they will do very specific different things. But they are all digital download products and all the prices are pre-Australian and pre-US tax, which makes the differences even more stark.
Mr HUSIC: AiG and Treasury, they argue that competition in the market will provide for lower prices. What has your experience been with Adobe or some of these other products that you have made reference to? For students through to designers, is there an ability for them to buy other products cheaper to meet their needs?
Ms Turner : I think in some cases competition could reduce prices. But, particularly in cases like Adobe, there are certain economic properties to the software that make it different from a normal consumer good. It does not have the necessary interoperability features so it is very hard to use this product next to a competitor's product. It is also more valuable the more people own it; it creates an industry standard. So people are taught to use Adobe products at school and when they are learning to be a graphic designer. It is what they use at work. It is something that becomes essential to their business, and that gives Adobe significant market power, allowing it to set prices. It seems, to someone external to the Adobe company, that they price at their own will. In those cases, I do not think competition alone is going to bring down this price difference.
Mrs PRENTICE: My daughter has just done a graphic arts course, and Adobe gave the college a small discount for all the students to order in bulk—very generous of them! But then that catches them all, obviously, because all the add-ons have to be Adobe.
Mr NEVILLE: They corner the whole market.
Ms Turner : Yes. While there are some really generous discounts out there for students and even not-for-profits, unfortunately we are also talking about particular groups who are on significantly lower incomes. Looking at some of studies out there, the National Union of Students did a cost-of-living study that showed that a lot of students are struggling to pay rent; 43 per cent of students could not afford internet and telephone services out of their regular income. This makes even discounted IT products out of reach for a lot of people. Alternatively, they may cut back on other essentials. It is the same for not-for-profits. Connecting Up, which is a company that offers discounted software to not-for-profit groups, found that 32 per cent of not-for-profits who responded to their survey—so those who obviously knew about the discount software—had old software that did not meet their needs and they could not afford to upgrade it.
Mrs PRENTICE: The worst thing is that it becomes obsolete so quickly and then there are the costs of upgrading. Erin, you have done so much work on this. Are you aware of any other countries or markets that are addressing the issue like we are trying to?
Ms Turner : No, I am not, but it is something that seems to affect other markets, particularly if you look at some of the UK prices or even Canadian prices compared to American prices. But it seems that Australia, at least from our initial investigations, is hit hardest by this problem.
Mr NEVILLE: Even though you said you have not analysed any other companies to the same extent as the two that we have discussed today, what has your experience been of Apple and Microsoft?
Ms Turner : We have noticed that there are price differences. I know Choice explored those products in their submission really well. Microsoft has a couple of digital download products that really stood out for us as examples of products for which there are not necessarily local retail staff or for which there are bricks-and-mortar add-on costs that businesses claim add to the extra cost of selling products in Australia. There is a big difference in price between those sold in the US online store and those sold in the Australian online store. I referred to an example earlier on—
Mr HUSIC: The iPhone?
Ms Turner : I was thinking of the digital download of the Microsoft Office 2012 package.
Mrs PRENTICE: Like iTunes or something?
Ms Turner : Yes. But there are price differences with the iPhone. I think the Canadian iPhone sells for the equivalent of A$622, and the iPhone 4S, the same model, sells for $799 in Australia. So there are big differences between hardware prices as well as software prices.
Mr HUSIC: You make reference, as a number of submissions do, to the impact of international price discrimination or, in some cases, what is referred to as regional price discrimination. Does ACCAN have a view on how best to address that?
Ms Turner : I think it is a very difficult problem, especially because each business has a different business model and pricing model, and each product operates slightly differently. What will bring down prices for Apple iTunes, which has some competitors, would be very different from what needs to be done with the prices for Adobe, which has, it seems to us, limited competitors.
One thing we would like to see addressed is the development of international warranties. So, if consumers do choose to purchase overseas, the suggestion is—as has been suggested in other hearings—that we remove geoblocking to allow us access to other prices. If that is possible, we would like to make sure that consumers are covered by Australian consumer law at the very least in an international warranty. That would give Australian consumers at least some security in shopping elsewhere and accessing lower prices—hopefully, bringing competition to Australia.
Mr HUSIC: This notion of harmonising our warranties on an international level or even a regional one—have you advanced that with any other section of government?
Ms Turner : No. This is actually the first inquiry we have brought the discussion to, but it is something we will continue with. We have started discussions with the ACCC to get a sense of how this issue affects Australians and the limits of Australian consumer law. So we will be pursuing that in the coming months.
Mr HUSIC: Okay. I can see, on the face of it, why you advocate this notion of harmonising warranties, but why do you see that it might help with prices? Do you think the warranty issue is something that is actually driving up prices here?
Ms Turner : I think it is something that can prevent consumers from shopping overseas and accessing those lower prices, which we know that some people are doing anyway. One thing that we have found is particularly concerning, looking into this, is that consumers, due to the high prices in Australia, use a number of methods to purchase overseas—or at least the particularly savvy consumers do. They might shop while they are travelling; they might purchase through online stores that know they are selling to Australia; or, as we are increasingly seeing, services are offered on online—virtual private networks or even stores—that give you a fake US address and then courier products to Australia. They allow you to access those cheaper products. The more businesses realise that Australians are doing this, I think that could have an impact in terms of competition and bringing prices down. However, we are concerned about whether Australian Consumer Law or any consumer law will apply to those purchases. It is very hard; there are no legal examples we can really refer to, to our knowledge, in these cases.
Mr HUSIC: On the warranty issue, if I can play devil's advocate, do you think that there is a degree of acceptance within the minds of Australian consumers of IT products about the notion of planned obsolescence? They will have a good for a period of time—probably two years or so—and after that point of time in time they will go for the latest model. If you accept that there is a degree of that, how much would harmonising international warranties actually benefit in this space?
Ms Turner : That is a great question. Some consumers will not be as concerned about that. Others certainly will be. Not every consumer at the moment feels competent about shopping online. We fund the ACCAN Grants Scheme for products for communications consumers. I was in Albury yesterday, talking to older consumers who are being taught by young student volunteers how to use iPads and set up an iTunes account. They are very nervous about giving their credit card details to an online store and shopping online. Knowing that there is an international warranty for a purchase can go to help ease some of that stress and nervousness. In terms of planned obsolescence, I know some consumers are very happy to get the new iPhone every 18 months, but there are certainly a lot of people out there who want to buy an iPhone for five, six or eight years. They expect, if they are going to invest nearly $1,000 in a phone, that it is going to last.
Mr HUSIC: I got this iPad in August 2010. This was the first version and there have been two versions of the iPad since.
Mrs PRENTICE: But even toasters are planned to disintegrate these days. Everything does, usually a week after the warranty expires!
Mr HUSIC: It is more the impact of going through that process and people basically working it out in their heads.
CHAIR: Time for one last question, Mr Neville.
Mr NEVILLE: What is your experience of blocking? Are some companies worse than others? Could you tell us what experience you have had with blocking, where your members or people you have associated with have been trying to purchase overseas and have brought the equipment back to Australia only to find that they cannot use it? Is one company worse than another in that field?
Ms Turner : Not to my knowledge. A lot of the companies are equally as bad as each other. Adobe, if you shop online, will redirect you automatically to the Australian store. We were talking before the hearing about not necessarily knowing, if you purchase hardware overseas, if it is going to be compatible in Australia. It can be difficult to find out that information if you are going to plug in your computer and accidentally blow it up.
Mr NEVILLE: Is that compatibility genuine or is it contrived, if you know what I mean?
Ms Turner : In some cases, it is genuine. I am definitely not an expert on electricity systems, but the plugs and the wattage in the USA, due to historical legacy differences, are very different to in Australia. So there do need to be some changes to products, but not significant. Where we really find geoblocking being frustrating is with those digital download products. It is two clicks of a button to download it in Australia. It would be equally easily if it were accessible to download it in the American store. I think that is where consumers really notice it: 'Why is this product hundreds to thousands of dollars more, when I am even paying to download this product through my internet service provider? I am paying for the download. There is no shipping or handling. There is no alteration of the product.'
Mr Hawkins : We were talking on the way down here about my experience and how I blew up a computer because of that difference in the wattage! That was a genuine blocking that I was not aware of. I do not know if it is because of copyright but there are a lot of things I want to access that are available in an overseas market and would be accessible to me as a blind person but when I try to download them from Australia I do not have access to them, they are blocked. Amazon is a really good example of that. I have an Amazon account and while I used to be able to download things a couple of years ago, now when I try to download certain things it says they are not allowed to be downloaded outside of the US.
Ms Lawrence : Like music.
Mr Hawkins : Like music and certain books and things. I am not sure if the reason for that is copyright or what it is, but it is a significant problem for people like me when there is a very limited amount of accessible information, be it books or textbooks. To get them in a format that I can use is very difficult. For example, in the US they have a site called Bookshare, which has over 100,000 titles of accessible books specifically for people who have a print disability, but while we can access Bookshare from Australia we only have access to 4,000 of those titles. I do not know if that is because of copyright or what the reason is, but that is an area where the blocking has real impacts for Australian consumers.
Mrs PRENTICE: On that note, I understand from an author that authors actually get to set some of the price differentials, which they do.
Ms Turner : In some cases, yes. I think ultimately the companies, especially the big companies, are the only ones who can really tell us why these differences exist and explain why geo-blocking exists. That is why we would really like to see some of the major companies front up to this inquiry. I am sure you would as well.
CHAIR: On that note, thank you for coming. And thank you, Mr Hawkins, for giving your unique perspective on this evidence.
Mr Hawkins : We are very happy to have the opportunity to speak to you.
Mr NEVILLE: Ms Lawrence, we did not give you a chance.
Ms Lawrence : No, these two are the experts—I have just come along as the chaperone!
CHAIR: You have done a very good job. The secretariat will forward you a transcript of your evidence. If there are any slight amendments you want to make, to grammatical errors or anything like that, feel free to do that. Thank you for coming today.