By: MarkJ - 26 April, 2010 (2:01 AM)
aaispBroadband ISP Andrews and Arnold ( AAISP ) has discovered a potential loophole in the controversial Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA) that could actually encourage consumers to setup an open / public Wi-Fi (wireless) internet hotspot; as opposed to discouraging it as many people fear.

It's often been reported that the Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA) will make it more difficult to setup public Wi-Fi Hotspots due to the potential threat of legal action or disconnection against the owner by Rights Holders. This impedes the ability of businesses (cafe's etc.) to offer a service and people to get online.

It all stems from the fact that the owner is unfairly made directly responsible for anybody downloading unlawful copyright infringing files over their network. The alternative's of re-classifying yourself as an ISP brings extra legal and cost burdens, as does asking another ISP to "manage" the network for you.

The solution, claims AAISP, is to stop identifying yourself as a "Subscriber" and instead become a "Communications provider", which is apparently critically different from being defined as a "Service provider".

Adrian Kennard (blog), AAISP's Director, said:

"Tell your internet provider that you are now buying the service from them as a communications provider. Well, best to ask first in case they have any extra terms, AUP, or costs, but some (like AAISP) don't mind at all. In fact go further - advise then that sending you copyright infringement reports would cause you distress and alarm.

Now you have done that you are not a subscriber as defined by the Digital Economy Act 2010. But as you have no agreement with the public for them to use the wifi so you are not a service provider either. So you don't have nasty obligations under the Act either.

Your internet provider cannot treat you as a subscriber as the definition is clear in the Act. As such they have no legal requirement to pass on or count copyright infringement notices to you for your IP addresses. In fact, if they do they could be comitting an offence under Protection from Harassment Act 1997, section 22 of the The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, or section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

The internet provider must not count the notices they get or take technical measures against you under the Digital Economy Act because you are not a subscriber."

AAISP admits that copyright owners could still get your details and take legal action against you, although in theory the customer now has the perfect defence of running a public Wi-Fi network (i.e. the copyright infringement could have been carried out by a random member of the public); plausible deniability. Put another way, the DEA might actually encourage people to run public Wi-Fi . Of course nobody has tested this theory, yet.

In related news it's been reported that Ofcom is likely to impose a threshold that takes into account an ISP's size and costs of compliance with the Digital Economy Act. The move could result in small Wi-Fi networks and ISPs being exempt from the act. Mobile Broadband providers might also escape. However nothing concrete will be known for a few months.

It's important to point out that many consumer broadband offering UK ISPs will impose restrictions within their Terms and Conditions (T&C's) against the sharing of a connection with others.
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Comments: 9

asa logoCrosbie Fitch
Posted: 26 April, 2010 - 1:37 PM
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On the last sentence, perhaps you could explain how on earth any ISP can prevent any of their customers sharing their Internet connection? That would be like a telephone company prohibiting its customers letting their friends use their phone.

T&C may say that support is only provided if the connection is unshared, but that's not a prohibition against sharing. Only laws like copyright and the DEAct can prohibit 'sharing'.
asa logoMarkJ
Posted: 26 April, 2010 - 2:01 PM
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I changed the wording to make it clearer but as it's all a part of the same sentence then it should be clear that "prohibit" refers to the term and not the act wink . The point being that an ISP with such a term wouldn't like you be a "Communications provider".
asa logoCrosbie Fitch
Posted: 26 April, 2010 - 2:29 PM
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MarkJ, the change in wording is better.

However, why wouldn't an ISP 'like' their customers to be communications providers?

Have you heard of BT FON? This seems to indicate that BT 'likes' the idea.

Then again perhaps it's just that BT prefers that WiFi isn't given away free as an altruistic act on the part of its domestic users, and BT FON is a way of closing down free WiFi?

I don't think 'like' really has anything to do with it. It's all geared to persuading people to pay a lot, whilst consuming as little of what they've paid for as possible (unless they pay more for it). And that also means throttling use of 'iffy' protocols such as BitTorrent.

Roll on the day when everyone's operating their own mesh networking node, and being legally disconnected from one's ISP simply impacts latency rather than connectivity (with some impact on bandwidth).
asa logoMarkJ
Posted: 26 April, 2010 - 3:16 PM
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You'd have to ask an ISP that, although one of the reasons stems from the fact broadband at the first level of interaction (with the connection owner) is already a shared service between lots of users in a single area. Many ISPs therefore rely on an economic model where you are only using a tiny amount of bandwidth some of the time and a lot of bandwidth during rarer periods.

Now obviously if you share your connection out with others then that economic model isn't likely to work properly, especially if the ISP is also using shaky "unlimited" terminology. Also by giving those outside of your home access you could be taking customers away from the ISP, people who might have otherwise subscribed to the same service.

IMO it's a silly term but it's done more to limit business abuse and excessive usage than to stop people sharing inside their own homes, which is normally fine.
asa logoCrosbie Fitch
Posted: 26 April, 2010 - 3:59 PM
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How about WiFi broadband routers that are preconfigured with an uncapped LAN/Intranet channel (secured by default) and a bandwidth/data capped public Internet channel (unsecured by default)?

That way there is no 'abuse' possible. The domestic users can provide free WiFi to all and sundry knowing that there's negligible impact on their connection, even if it becomes utilised continuously.

There's probably even a market opportunity to sell a preconfigured WAP to plug in to a spare ethernet socket in one's broadband router to provide such capped public Internet access (leaving the ISP-provided WAP secured), especially if it provides 'Public Communications Provider' status. Just like BT FON, but altruistic instead of mercenary.

E.g. "Ten quid gets you a plug-in WAP to share your broadband connection capped at 1Meg and 1Gig transfer per month".
asa logoJames
Posted: 26 April, 2010 - 11:33 PM
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Crosbie Fitch

Let me know if this is possible. I'd definitely offer public Wi-Fi if this is the case :)
asa logoCrosbie Fitch
Posted: 27 April, 2010 - 10:25 AM
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James, it's undoubtedly possible.

I suggest the easiest way of achieving it is to find some Linux hackers who can knock up an appropriate firmware 'upgrade' for a cheap off-the-shelf broadband router.

Given evident demand it can then be adopted as a retail product.

NB It may already exist and is just a Google search away. The general rule is that if you can think of something, umpteen others have already thought of it, been there, done it, and bought the t-shirt.
asa logoLeon Wolfeson
Posted: 28 April, 2010 - 3:28 AM
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You're a service provider if you're offering "free" wifi with for, say, customers. There is an implied contract.

(I've seen a ridiculous dodge halted by that before...)
asa logohehe
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