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March 27, 2013 | Jim Killock

Lords mistaken in their calls for Ofcom Internet regulation

The Lords often make very helpful contributions to legislative debates, but this really isn't one of them. There are huge amounts of regulation constraining Internet providers, from eCommerce to copyright, that cover the necessary ground already.


These are the key paragraphs:

204.  Ofcom should investigate the option of non-broadcast providers of TV-like services, such as Netflix and the content providers mentioned in Box 1, being invited to comply with an appropriate set of standards (the Broadcasting Code suitably amended for their environment) in return for some form of public recognition or kitemark. (Para 53)

211.  We urge the Government to ensure that cooperation on the regulation of converging media content, such as the category of TV and TV-like material, is included as part of the discussions between the EU and the US about the establishment of a free trade agreement. (Para 94)

221.  Specifically, Ofcom should be required, in dialogue with UK citizens and key industry players, to establish and publish on a regular basis the UK public's expectations of major digital intermediaries such as ISPs and other digital gateways, specifically with regard to protecting UK audiences and their families when accessing content through digital intermediaries' services, covering for example:

  • ·  The scope of their responsibilities (given they are not always in direct control of the content to which they provide access);
  • ·  Appropriate processes for receiving complaints and subsequent redress;
  • ·  Any specific measures, such as access controls, content classification systems, or other actions which the UK public might expect them to take in protecting children from harmful material. (Para 141)

In other words, the Lords' Communications Committee are looking for ‘voluntary’ participation in Ofcom's content regulation, (para 204) but these kinds of voluntary arrangement are rarely truly voluntary. Usually the government threatens legislation if the required ‘volunteering’ doesn't take place.

This makes these kinds of ‘voluntary’ arrangement particularly un-transparent and open to abuse. The Communications Act discussions, around child safety and copyright enforcement reflect this dynamic. Similar concerns have been raised about parallel EU processes.

The call for Ofcom to co-ordinate child safety policy also seems unfounded, given the work already taking place (para 221).

The call to include 'regulation of converging media content' in the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement is also very dangerous. Intellectual property laws should be kept out of TAFTA. (para 211) The reasons, following ACTA, are simple: IP laws are complex, need public scrutiny, and their effects on the Internet can be severe. TAFTA should not be a vehicle for pushing the Internet towards a broadcast model, which is what the Lords appear to be inviting.

 

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