Ofcom warns off free Wi-Fi providers

1 Jun 2010
Laptop user

Free Wi-Fi providers face copyright prosecution under new Ofcom regulations

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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