Tell Ofcom to fix the threat to wifi

Ofcom are running a consultation on a new version of the ‘Initial Obligations Code‘. That sounds as boring as it is important. It basically sets out how the Digital Economy Act will work in practice. 

ORG and many others have repeatedly told Ofcom and the Government that the Digital Economy Act could stifle Wifi provision and see individuals targeted unfairly. It is the Code which should sort that out. But the revised Code, two years in the making, has not addressed some of the key issues. 

Ofcom and the Government have refused to create an exception for wifi providers. As a result, we think the Code leaves businesses and public bodies that provide wifi facing allegations of copyright infringement and the costs of dealing with the powers of the Act. Libraries, other educational bodies and hospitality businesses have said they may restrict or withdraw wifi provision if this does not change. 

This is our chance to say why this is a bad idea. 

There are two things you can do. 

  1. Please consider responding to the consultation yourself, especially if you are a wifi provider or regularly use wifi in public and are worried about how this will affect you. You have until this Thursday (26th July). You can respond to the consultation using the form on Ofcom’s website. Or there are more details on how to respond at the bottom of this email. 
  2. Tell us if you are a wifi provider, and think you might receive allegations of copyright infringement as a result. You can use our form to let us know, and we’ll pass this on to Ofcom as part of our submission.    

What is happening?

Ofcom have published their revised ‘Initial Obligations Code‘. This sets out who is subject to the provisions of the Digital Economy Act, and who is not. It says, for example, whether those that provide access to wifi in public places, like cafes, will have to deal with allegations of copyright infringement.

Wifi providers still don’t know whether they will be held liable for the behaviour of those using their wifi. The revised Code does not address their situation directly, leaving them unclear as to whether they will be considered ‘subscribers’ (and therefore subject to allegations of copyright infringement) or not. The only way they can avoid this is by negotiating with their ISPs, convincing them they are wifi providers. It is complicated and time-consuming, and it is not even certain that this will see them avoid the powers of the Act.

This is despite repeated warnings from libraries, campaigners and MPs about the precarious position wifi providers are being placed in. If you run a business that provides open Wifi or access to customers – for example, a cafe, bar, or hotel – then this Code affects you. Wifi is an increasingly important part of the UK’s internet infrastructure. The Government should not be putting that at risk so cheaply. 

We think Ofcom should create a carve out for public bodies and businesses that provide Wifi to their customers, to ensure that WiFi provision is still as widely available as possible.

Ofcom’s site has the new Code and consultation document. Saskia Walzel from Consumer Focus has written more about the detail of the proposals for ORGZine

What can I do?

Two things. First, if you are a wifi provider, or regularly use the Wifi available in the places mentioned above, and feel the Code does not do enough to protect wifi provision, then please let Ofcom know.  This is a real opportunity to tell the Government that the Digital Economy Act still poses a serious risk to the provision of Wifi in the UK. If you think you will be affected, respond to the consultation. The deadline is 26th July. Ofcom have given you a few ways to respond. Here’s what they say:

  1. “Online: The quickest and simplest way is to complete our online consultation response form. This is ideal for people who have specific brief points to make and/or do not need to attach large documents to their response.
  2. By email: For larger consultation responses – particularly those with supporting charts, tables or other data – please email attaching your response in Microsoft Word format, together with a consultation coversheet.
  3. By post: Alternatively, you can write to Ofcom. Please address your response to Justin Le Patourel, Head of Online Copyright, Floor 2, Internet Policy Team, Ofcom, Riverside House, 2A Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA. Please enclose a consultation coversheet with your response.”

Second, we’d like to use your stories to help us explain to Ofcom the issues with the Code. There’s two things we’d like to know:

  1. Tell us if you provide wifi to the public, and are worried that you might incorrect receive allegations of copyright infringement. Give us details if possible about the kind of wifi you provide. 
  2. 2. People will be given 20 days to appeal allegations of infringement. If you think this will not be long enough, let us know and tell us why. 

You can use our form to tell us. Please submit your story before the end of this Wednesday (25th July).