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Ofcom warns off free Wi-Fi providers

Laptop user

By Barry Collins

Posted on 1 Jun 2010 at 15:06

Ofcom is advising anyone who offers free Wi-Fi access to consider restricting the service or risk potential prosecution.

The telecoms regulator last week detailed its three-strikes scheme for dealing with illegal downloaders, which was introduced as part of the Digital Economy Act.

Contained in the 74-page document is a warning to free Wi-Fi providers that they will be held responsible for the actions of their users. "Some businesses provide access in their public areas, and some consumers may also run unprotected Wi-Fi networks to allow others in their community free access to the internet," Ofcom's draft proposal states. "We consider that a person or an undertaking receiving an internet access service for its own purposes is a subscriber, even if they also make access available to third parties."

Subscribers may have their details handed to copyright owners if they've been caught performing illegal downloads three times in the same year.

Those who wish to continue to enable others to access their service will need to consider whether take steps to protect their networks against use for infringement

The regulator goes on to suggest that such providers may wish to reconsider leaving their Wi-Fi open. "Those who wish to continue to enable others to access their service will need to consider whether [to] take steps to protect their networks against use for infringement, to avoid the consequences that may follow," Ofcom warns.

Wi-Fi hotspots

Yet, while people setting up Wi-Fi hotspots for altruistic reasons face potential prosecution, businesses that provide Wi-Fi as a service appear to be offered immunity by Ofcom.

"Where a Wi-Fi network is provided in conjunction with other goods or services to a customer, such as a coffee shop or a hotel, our presumption is that the provider is within the definition of internet service provider," Ofcom's draft proposal states.

And because ISPs with fewer than 400,000 customers are currently exempt from the copyright enforcement scheme, Ofcom says it "would initially exclude those operators".

An Ofcom spokesperson insists that small providers are not being offered carte blanche. "Should robust evidence be provided that infringement is a problem on smaller ISPs and should it be proportionate, then the scope of the code will be extended," the spokesman claimed.

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User comments

Nuts

Could this be an attempt by Ofcom to show how silly this part of DE Act really is?
Making a distinction between a company providing WiFi free to the surrounding community 'just to be nice' against a coffee shop that does so to draw in the customers is seriously silly.

By greemble on 1 Jun 2010

Are they serious..?

What lunacy is this? How the heck does this count as progress? Shut down the parks because people get mugged there sometimes. Ban cars because they're driven by criminals sometimes.

By Noghar on 1 Jun 2010

Boris?

Isn't Major of London Boris Johnson planning to get the whole of London covered with WiFi for the 2012 Olympics?

By Stiggy on 1 Jun 2010

Stiggy

As long as they do not have 400 000 concurrent customers they will be fine. so a cap on access would have to be implemented and the access codes would more than likely end up on ebay (other auction sites are available)

By SimonCorlett on 1 Jun 2010

ring my bell service

I have set a service whereby anybody who wants to can ring a bell fixed to the post out side my house the first 300 uses are free but after that point you will have to pay 5p to ring the bell. to encourage people to use this service I am offering free wifi. unfortunately I am a sole trader and do not have to submit accounts to companies house and as I have not made any profit as yet there is no need for me to pay any tax.

By SimonCorlett on 1 Jun 2010

in my head

that made more sense in my head but hopefully you get the idea.

By SimonCorlett on 1 Jun 2010

sole trader

It makes little sense - but is understandable.

As a Sole Trader, you'll still need to submit your self-assessment tax forms, though
- Don't forget to add in the cost of Bell maintenance as well as the depreciation on equipment

By greemble on 1 Jun 2010

We lose

The large corporations win.

But then again, they do spend large amounts of money buying in politicians, none of which they can claim against tax (if they paid it). All we do is vote and that's free.

You can see why politicians put their loyalties where they do. Money in the bank is what counts.

By Lacrobat on 1 Jun 2010

BT FON

So how des this matter affect all of us who have signed up to the BT FON scheme?

By Nios_Ninja on 1 Jun 2010

Stupid

I don't know about you, but after this news, I definitely feel like buying more CDs now, so that the BPI will have more money to purchase an even bigger metaphorical hammer to hit us with in future....

By MD1500 on 1 Jun 2010

grit those teeth - Its worse

"Subscribers may have their details handed to copyright owners if they've been caught performing illegal downloads three times in the same year." - not quite. It seems they only have to "suspect" illegal downloads - no proof of the actual item. So legitimate free music or literature downloads may trigger the sanctions - as the stream may look "suspicious".

By Frogfall on 1 Jun 2010

I see a pattern...

2010: Ofcom opposes free wifi - supported by ?, opposed by the public

2010: Ofcom supports ISP cut offs - supported by music companies, opposed by BT and the public

2010: Ofcom don't care about rural broadband - supported by ?, opposed by business leaders and the public

2009: Ofcom does not force revealing of true speeds, supported by large ISPs, opposed by the public

2008: Ofcom supports Phorm - supported by BP, opposed by the public.

What can I say - I like what Ofcom have done for mobile phones, but I think that whoever is in charge of their broadband panel should be fired... and put in a remote village... a broadband connection 10x slower than advertised...with no free wifi when they go on holiday or out and a constant monitoring of their connection to send advertising to them... fair?

By all4nothing on 2 Jun 2010

A different interpretation

Ofcom’s concern appears to be the intermingling of use. You can’t be both a communications provider and an end- user of any particular service. If Ofcom were to allow this, you could use the fact that you provide public access to mask your own infringements. So, I read the draft proposal as saying you must keep your own Internet access separate from any access you provide to the public, if you want to retain the status of a communications provider.

An obvious way to segregate these two types of access would be to have separate physical connections, such as two DSL-enabled telephone lines, one for your own use and one for the public. Given that the Internet is itself an abstraction, there’s no need for multiple wires or cables. The key is that the public access has its own separate IP address. This could be achieved with a bridging DSL service that allows the assignment of more than one IP address. Alternatively, the public access could be run as a VPN on top of your own access. Then, you need either separate contracts or a single contract that clearly differentiates the two services.

This separation of use is conceptually no different to services like BT FON.

By pacid on 2 Jun 2010

This has been the case for a while (and recently passed into law).

If you provide open Wi-Fi access, you are responsible for any misuse, unless you have kept a log of which "guests" on you Wi-Fi have taken which actions.

As most home users, with open wi-fi, don't know how to keep track of "guests" on their Wi-Fi, they are by default responsible for any wrong-doing.

Therefore, they are encouraging (by warnings and fines) home users to secure their Wi-Fi. This means that drive-by uploads and downloads of dodgy material aren't going to get the person with the wi-fi point in trouble.

Those that still want to run an open wi-fi spot can get a licence and just need to keep track of which guests (and their MAC addresses) do what, when, so that, if something dodgy takes place, they can point the lawyers in the right direction and side-step prosecution. If they don't have the necessary filters and logging equipment installed on the network, they are responsible, but they know the SP and only have themselves to blame.

By big_D on 2 Jun 2010

"The Big Society"?

Brilliant! Provide a service "for altruistic reasons" and you risk prosecution, provide the exact same service "for business reasons" and you are immune!

Three complaints of alleged copyright infringement and you (or someone else who happens to be easier to trace) get punished without due process, but businesses can make any number of false allegations without facing any penalty at all! You do not think that businesses may take advantage of this asymmetrical power to, say, get bloggs that are critical of their business practices taken down?

This is appalling, unjust and idiotic and if we put up with it our democracy is dead!

By JohnAHind on 2 Jun 2010

More untenable Laws from the’ UK Law Makers’

More untenable Laws from the’ UK Law Makers’ with the sole purpose it seems to criminalize everyone for the sake of collecting additional revenue streams.This maybe seen as a means of supplementing lost revenues from an ever-increasing Bankrupt proven incompetent Government.

Any private home or business could have someone download Copyright material illegally without the owner’s knowledge or consent. This ‘Daft Draft’ proposal yet again proves no one in Government seems to understand the basic rudimentary elements of the Internet.

If anyone should complain as to 'Copyright Infringement' it should perhaps be me. As after releasing the Formula for 'Worlds First Communications Platforms High Capacity Super Controller' under strictly controlled contracts to BT in 1995 I am informed it is allegedly being used under the name of A.N.P.D.S. in breach of agreements in the MoD. Link to proof document here: http://tinyurl.com/ycsgu49

Signed Carl Barron Chairman of agpcuk
http://carl-agpcuk.livejournal.com/
http://www.dorsetvisualguide.co.uk/

By Carl_Barron on 2 Jun 2010

Sion Simon (then an MP) assured me that it's "still possible to have open networks whose settings protect the host from unlawful activity on the network" (Twitter status 5951557332) while acknowledging that some torrent activities are legal (Twitter status 5951733756). He eventualy responded (Twitter status 14958695761), referring me to the HoC debate:

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2010-04-
06b.836.0&s=speaker%3A11225#g913.1

in which he said "Obviously, I do not claim to know what the technical measures are, but when I am told that they exist, I take it in good faith that they do exist, and unless my hon. Friend can prove to me that they do not exist".

By pigsonthewing on 2 Jun 2010

Sorry, that link should be http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2010-04-
06b.836.0&s=speaker%3A11225#g913.1

aka http://bit.ly/aAhMFw

By pigsonthewing on 2 Jun 2010

"The Big Society"?

Brilliant! Provide a service "for altruistic reasons" and you risk prosecution, provide the exact same service "for business reasons" and you are immune!

Three complaints of alleged copyright infringement and you (or someone else who happens to be easier to trace) get punished without due process, but businesses can make any number of false allegations without facing any penalty at all! You do not think that businesses may take advantage of this asymmetrical power to, say, get bloggs that are critical of their business practices taken down?

This is appalling, unjust and idiotic and if we put up with it our democracy is dead!

By JohnAHind on 2 Jun 2010

On that basis, shouldn't the Highways Agency be prosecuted if someone speeds on the road.

By stokegabriel on 2 Jun 2010

Who dares... loses?

Personally, I'd never connect to anything via free wi-fi anyway. You have no way of validating what is sitting inside the network that provides the "free" connection: and I have seen instances of data theft following the use of a "free" connect which can be shown to trace back to that instance of use. What would be worse - chose between a warning letter from OfCOM, and having all your bank accounts frozen while a loss adjuster decides whether you are a victim of organised crime, a dimwit, or simply lazy. I know which I'd rather have! (and yes, that is a real and recent incident)

By Steve_Cassidy on 2 Jun 2010

If this were the US

If this were the US, then OFCOM's rules would be struck down by the fourth amendment as an invasion of privacy by the sate. Is there a UK equivalent?

How on Earth can a state body interfere with the running of a private network? It shouldn't even be the business of the state who is connecting to a wifi hotspot.

Suppose a terrorist uses a computer in a public library to find bomb plans. Will the state hold the library responsible?

Maybe they should arrest the boss of every bus company that transports a rapist or a serial killer, too.

By Perfectblue97 on 2 Jun 2010

fourth amendment

Not in the UK - there is no written constitution. Nearst there is to anything of that kind is the Magna Carta - which is England only - and most of that has been repealed.

Anyway, this isn't the state interfering.
It's an agency laying out some draft guides that may be applied in case of civil actions

By greemble on 2 Jun 2010

No.10 Petition on file sharing

The Petition against this Act closed today. Can some one with more littoral sills than me start an new one based on the comments above.

By MGR9EGE3 on 3 Jun 2010

Does Ofcom really have correct opinion

In Estonia you can use free Wifi even on normal busses.
How can it be so different in same EU.
And Brits can not go out of country whitout pasport.
Is this really kind of society Brits do want.

By jounilaurila on 3 Jun 2010

Yet another reason to repeal this odious legislation

Almost everything that can be said has been said and JohnAHind hit the nail right on the head with his opening sentence.
The law was one of many last-gasp efforts by the last Government to buy the support of vocal business interests,having alienated its traditional supporters. It is to be hoped the new Government will scrap it in its entirety. Although the Tories are the traditional party of big business they do, I hope, retain their core libertarian principles too.
The next job will be to reform the copyright laws so they are not milked by generations of people who had no part in the creation of the item.

By Walsallian on 3 Jun 2010

Inconsistency

I posted a letter yesterday. It's ok, it did not contain anything in breach of copyright. It did not contain anything obscene. I would like to see the PO prosecuted every time someone sticks a letter in one of their mailboxes containing something that on a computer would be considered unacceptable by OFCOM. That way we will have a level playing field. Conversely, OFCOM should be consistent with the PO. The concept is called 'common carrier'. Or have they never heard of it? If not, they should be bonfired (as in bonfire of quangos, not as in a blatant threat that will have black helicopters appear over my home).

By fogtax on 3 Jun 2010

Principle

The key principle in my opinion is that what applies in one medium should apply in others too.

As per my previous posting, that means use of broadband and use of the PO should be under the same principles, and likewise, as someone else pointed out, the use of libraries and buses and highways (such that the providers thereof should not be prosecuted for misuse, rather those actually responsible should be).

The problem I think is with lawmakers who don't know how to use computers or have very little competence in using them, such that they cannot see the analogies between computer usage and alternatives (mail, phone, etc).

Are our lawmakers not required to be competent in the matters they make laws about? If they aren't, the laws they pass would surely be inept? Oh yes, that's right, they are!

By fogtax on 3 Jun 2010

Ridiculous

If Offcom is so worried about piracy, they should tell the music and film industry to stop ripping us off with the ridiculously high prices they charge for their wares

By birdmaniw on 3 Jun 2010

@greemble

You have an unjustifiably rosy view of the US legal position. Much of the "thinking" behind the current direction of travel traces back to an odious piece of Bush era repression called the "Digital Millenium Copyright Act". This affects anyone who uses cloud services hosted in the US (like Google) obliging them to take down any account on receiving three alligations of copyright infringment. Check out the Mark Kobayashi-Hillary case to see how far companies can streach the concept of copyright to exploit this law. Comedian Jimmy Carr seems to think his copyright extends to anything that happens within a venue on the day he performs even if it does not include him!
We are soon going to be seeing even more odious examples of corporate exploitation of this. Oil companies could argue for example that footage taken by green campaigners violated their copyright by including signage containing their corporate logo. Remember none of this has to stand up in court - an unsubstantiated aligation is enough to compel internet companies to punish you!

By JohnAHind on 3 Jun 2010

@JohnAHind

What rosy view of any legislation might that be then?

By greemble on 4 Jun 2010

JohnAHind "This is appalling, unjust and idiotic and if we put up with it our democracy is dead!"

I agree with everything you said except we do put up with it and we've never had democracy. Each day that become more and more apparent.

By dodge1963 on 4 Jun 2010

Apple cart spills milk stable door

All that's needed is an honesty box and a 1p per year subscription fee.

Quit whining.

By Gindylow on 4 Jun 2010

@greeamle @Perfectblue97

Sorry I was really responding to Perfectblue97. But this situation should be ruled out by any decent democratic constitution written or not.

This is like giving brewers the power to complain to water companies that they suspect illegal home-brewing and then the law compels the water company to cut your water off with no prior legal process!

And since there is no penalty for making a false allegation, brewers are free to use this power to harass any individual who says their beer tastes like cat's piss!

By JohnAHind on 4 Jun 2010

I'm gonna bring down Royal Mail

Today I have photocopied a couple of pages of of a Harry Potter book, and am going to post them to a friend and will then do the same over the next couple of days. I will then inform OFCOM that Royal Mail has aided and abetted in Copyright piracy. Boy is Royal Mail in for a surprise when OFCOM prosecute.

Wadda you mean thats idiotic?

By captaincinders on 4 Jun 2010

I'm gonna bring down Royal Mail

Today I have photocopied a couple of pages of of a Harry Potter book, and am going to post them to a friend and will then do the same over the next couple of days. I will then inform OFCOM that Royal Mail has aided and abetted in Copyright piracy. Boy is Royal Mail in for a surprise when OFCOM prosecute.

Wadda you mean thats idiotic?

By captaincinders on 4 Jun 2010

Except

To correct your analogy they would seal up your friends letterbox. Not go after the Delivery medium.
I'm sure your friend would be delighted.

By Gindylow on 5 Jun 2010

Solution Suggestions Please

Any suggestions for a free or low costs solution for church that is providing wifi?

By petermalins on 14 Jun 2010

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