TalkTalk: DEA is "stacked" against consumers

20 Oct 2011
broadband cable

Andrew Heaney says warning letters will "bully" users as much as ACS Law's speculative invoicing

TalkTalk has continued its criticism of the Digital Economy Act, saying the process will "bully" users.

TalkTalk and BT have argued against the controversial act, which will see warning letters sent to subscribers if illegal downloads are spotted on their lines. Persistent offenders face disconnection.

Speaking at a Westminster eForum on the subject, TalkTalk's head of strategy and regulation, Andrew Heaney, said his firm believes that piracy needs to be dealt with, but doesn't think the DEA is the right route.

"The way the DEA works is it's an indiscriminate dragnet," he added. "In attempting to target and deter infringers, it will catch innocent subscribers.”

Heaney said that each broadband connection is used by an average of four to five people, but the person named on the contract will always be the one targeted for legal action.

The way the DEA works is it's an indiscriminate dragnet

Under the DEA, warning letters will be sent to subscribers, advising them that their connections have been seen downloading illegal content. In such cases, "those threats are made to people who have done absolutely nothing wrong,” he said.

However, Heaney's suggestion that he as a parent isn't necessarily legally responsible for what his teenage children download led to expressions of disbelief in the audience. "As a matter of social good it would be good if you could do it, but you can't impose a responsibility on them... requiring them to do something”, he said.

He also took issue with the appeals process. Anyone sent a warning letter will be able to appeal at a cost of £20 - although that will be refunded if the appeal is successful.

"It starts from the idea that you're guilty and you must prove you're innocent," he said. "How am I supposed to prove I didn't download a track... Am I supposed to prove that I'm not an ABBA fan?

"And to add insult to injury, [we're] going to have to pay £20 to have an appeal. It's stacked against us."

He also argued the letters would "threaten" consumers and were "frankly little better than the bullying and threats that's gone on by ACS Law and those other solicitors”.

Broadband prices

Heaney said that even with ISPs picking up less of the costs than first planned, the added costs of user churn, administration and managing appeals will "get passed onto the customers".

"Should customers have to pay to protect the copyright of private companies?” he asked.

That view was echoed by policy advocate Saskia Walzel of Consumer Focus. "The cost of that will most likely add to the price of broadband for all consumers," she argued.

Dominique Lazanski, head of policy at The Taxpayers' Alliance, agreed that "the costs are going to be passed down to consumers through higher tariffs", questioning whether at a time of economic difficulty, was this "the best way to spend money".

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