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UPDATE UK ISP Karoo Cuts-Off Illegal Broadband File Sharers

Posted: 24th Jul, 2009 By: MarkJ
Hull's only broadband ISP, Karoo (KCOM - Kingston Communications), has drawn anger from both the Open Rights Group and Consumer Focus after it emerged that the provider was disconnecting customers suspected of piracy and doing so without warning them first. The shocking situation has been made worse by the fact that residents of Hull have no other alternative but to use KCOM's ISP.

The BBC News Online report states that, once disconnected, customers are forced to sign a document where they must pledge not to repeat the offence and admit their guilt; only after doing this can access be restored. The strict policy is apparently nothing new, with some users having been suspended for more than 2 years.

Nick Thompson, Director of Consumer and Publishing Services at KCOM, said:

"I think it's the responsible approach, because we are protecting people from illegal activity. There are no benefits for us. In fact, when we cut off customers we're actually reacting against our own interests because we don't charge customers for that period when the service is suspended."

Broadband Internet access is, for many people, now an essential service - just like your telephone or electricity supply. To that end a number of consumer campaign groups have, perhaps rightly so, responded with anger upon learning the news.

Commenting on Internet users suspected of file-sharing being cut off the internet by service provider (ISP) Karoo, Jill Johnstone, Director, Consumer Focus, said:

“Rights holders and internet service providers cannot be prosecutor, judge and jury. To cut people off the internet for allegedly infringing copyright is disproportionate. And to do so without giving consumers the right to challenge the evidence against them is unacceptable.

“The Government’s proposals to tackle illegal file sharing involve sending warning letters and court action before technical measures can be imposed. This approach should be adopted to stop consumers from being treated this way again.”

Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group said:

"Internet access is crucial for freedom of expression in the digital age. It's also how people do business and gain an education. A monopoly like Karoo cannot be allowed to arbitrarily decide when to limit our fundamental human rights. Only courts can do that. People are being found guilty by a Kang-Karoo court."

The data supplied to ISPs by Rights Holder connected organisations has at times been wrong. These often rely on flawed IP tracks, which are not an effective way of determining a computer user’s true identity. They can easily be faked, hijacked, redirected, abused and used in ways that the systems employed cannot detect. The only real way to be sure is to inspect a person’s hard disk.

Indeed the governments own Digital Britain report agreed that disconnection was not the way to go (here), instead proposing a mix of warnings, information release and ultimately technical measures (speed reductions) as punishment for repeat offenders.

Karoo could perhaps be forgiven, to a limited degree, if they had at least given customers a fair warning first and did not hold a near total monopoly over Hull's residents. We think this level of action is unfair, but no doubt some rights holders would disagree.

UPDATE - 25th July @ 07:07am

Good news, Karoo has softened its position following yesterday’s news and will now warn customers before cutting them off. This puts the ISP in line with the "Three-Strikes" (1st warn, 2nd warn again, 3rd disconnect) policy demanded by rights holders.

Nick Thompson, Karoo's Director of Consumer Services, issued the following general statement:

"It is evident that we have been exceeding the expectations of copyright owners, the media and Internet users. So, we have changed our policy to move in more line with the industry standard approach, whilst still taking the issues of copyright infringement and illegal internet activity seriously. Going forward, we will provide customers with three written notifications before their service is temporarily suspended."

It’s worth remembering that the Digital Britain report and many consumer groups believe that even the Three-Strikes policy is a step too far, though at least this is better than an absurd immediate disconnection.
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