February 25, 2010 | Jim Killock

Government admits cafes and open wifi providers will face disconnection but can appeal

Government notes from the Digital Economy Bill Team admit that cafes and other similar businesses will face disconnection: but say that a combination of blocking technologies and the right to appeal means they will be ok:

The type of free or “coffee shop” access is a basic bandwidth service which offers users access to e-mail and web browsing. It is seems unlikely that the type of free broadband service currently available would be sufficient to support any file-sharing or could be used for significant copyright infringement. Under our proposals such a service is more likely to receive notification letters as a subscriber than as an ISP. As before there are measures that can be taken to reduce the possibility of infringement with any cases on appeal being considered on their merits.

In a world of ever increasing bandwidth, and very small music files, this seems incredible advice. The government seems to be saying: you can block, hope for the best, and then trust to British justice if you face disconnection. The note goes on:

… Hotels, holiday parks and conference centres will in many cases offer a level of service where infringement could become a significant problem. Business users will want a high speed bandwidth connection and wireless internet access is becoming a default requirement for holiday parks and the like. … Again, advice should be made available which is relevant and proportionate to the establishment.

Establishments that need to block can find cheap products, the note claims:

These products … allow the user to block the most popular P2P applications such as: Bit Torrent, eMule, Gnutella, Kazaa, Morpheus, and Limewire.

We doubt this is really true, and anything that works now is going to be very easily circumvented if the application developers think their users have a problem. This is exactly what Skype does today - route round these sort of blocks to allow non-technical users to avoid organisational firewalls. For the businesses concerned, they will just have to hope that these measures remain effective. But whether effective or not, quietly, through the backdoor, allowing the use of legitimate technology has effectively been criminalized.

Throughout the consultation BIS claimed this was not going to happen: but this is the consequence of the policy that is being adopted. As a result, BIS and Mandelson are relying on very narrow, quickly thought-up, probably innaccurate technical advice.

Mandelson’s deputy Lord Young adds:

As I said during the debate, we cannot simply give a blanket exemption to such establishments [as libraries or universities] – this would in effect give carte blanche to infringement and would attract infringers to exploit these spaces. Instead, we see a pragmatic approach as the best way forward using three elements:

i)            existing action,

ii)            information and advice, and;

iii)            the independent appeals body.

This is unreasonable and incredibly bureaucratic. This Bill is going to make life very difficult for a very wide range of users – the government’s notes admit as much. Please take action, especially if you own a business that could face tribunals and disconnection, and write to your local papers and MP.

Read the full note and letter (both in their original .doc format)