Digital Economy Bill: The end is nigh…

{ Posted on Apr 09 2010 by Darren Farnden }

So, the Digital Economy Bill has passed its final stage before Royal Assent and is now, for all intents and purposes, going to be made law – much to the dismay of many ISPs and Internet entities including Google and ISPA.

darrenfarnden Digital Economy Bill: The end is nigh...

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

We think it’s laughable that the Bill has been passed through the House of Commons with such speed. After three readings in the House of Lords without prior consultation with those in the Internet access industry and many ill-considered amendments, its passage through the House of Commons has seemingly been accelerated to light speed. The correct political term I believe is ‘pre-election wash up’. This basically means that, whilst we and others have only been able to debate this controversial Bill indirectly, the government has been able to get it passed as quickly as possible before the election. As both of the major political parties agreed on the majority of the clauses within the Bill, they’ve managed to do it easily and with little proper debate, consideration or collaboration with industry.

However, the inclusion of the DEB within the ‘wash-up’ has been criticised by a number of organisations including Google, ISPA , several ISPs including Entanet and multiple MPs with varying points of view. Even well known supporters of the Bill such as LibDem front bencher Don Foster have criticised the way in which it has been rushed through the Commons, saying that “it was disgraceful a bill of this complexity is given so little time to be debated.”

We completely agree. For months now we’ve followed the progress of the Bill and the scrutiny it was subjected to in the House of Lords. We’ve analysed and voiced our opinion on the suggested amendments and lack of consultation with industry. We were continuing to watch closely as it moved into the Commons, then BAM! It flashes past our eyes and into Royal Assent.

So what got passed?

A number of areas that are of key concern actually. Clause 18, which was introduced as an amendment to the previous Clause 17 giving the Secretary of State ridiculous amounts of power is one (see Entanet Opinion: Mandelson – New master of the digital economy?). From the beginning, Clause 17 was expected to be dropped and critics suspected it had only ever been included as a bargaining chip. However its replacement turned out to be just as bad even with the last ditch amendments. This now forces ISPs to block websites where “a substantial proportion of the content accessible at or via each specified online location infringes copyright.” Worryingly it could affect a number of websites hosting user-generated content such as YouTube.

Also as expected, the powers to force ISPs to tackle illegal copyright infringement have been granted, meaning ISPs may now have to rely on information provided by rights holders using unreliable 3rd party IP address tracking to punish offenders. As we’ve stated in many of our previous Opinion articles, we’re fundamentally opposed to this and believe it won’t provide accurate results; will lead to innocent people being wrongly accused; will see the end of free Wi-Fi from Cafes, restaurants and hotels; and yet still won’t deter the real villains who can easily circumnavigate this system.

As we now know, Labour decided at the last minute to withdraw the controversial 50p broadband tax in yet another attempt to rush the Bill through. However, they’ve stated that this will be re-introduced into a new finance bill if they’re re-elected. The Tories on the other hand have stated that they’re opposed to this and previously advised they would drop the 50p tax if they were elected. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this one. In any event, should the government be funding Next Generation Access development or should it be driven by the free market?

So what’s next?

That’s a good question. The Open Rights Group (ORG) has already changed their homepage to promote their fight back campaign and a number of ISPs and Internet organisations have stated they’ll continue to oppose the Bill following the election. We’re not sure what good it will do though, now that it has made it through to Royal Assent and the two major political parties agree (in part at least) on most of the aspects of it. In the meantime we’ll continue to oppose the Bill and push for open debate that includes industry.

We’re utterly disappointed in the underhand way in which the government has rushed this complex and controversial Bill through into law. It hasn’t enabled the affected parties’ or MPs’ views to be considered and, yet again, demonstrates how political parties are using controversial issues such as copyright infringement to play a political game prior to the election. It’s our view that several aspects of this Bill will be severely detrimental to the Internet industry, the Internet itself, the public and the UK as a whole. The use of IP tracking isn’t an accurate way of tracking down copyright infringers; guilty until proven innocent is still the wrong approach; disconnection and throttling is not a proportionate ‘punishment’; and website blocking is not the answer. The list goes on.

‘Bootnote’

An interesting and perhaps worrying note regarding the DEB is that in a leaked letter the Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, quite obviously confuses what IP stands for in terms of an IP address. In the letter he refers to an IP address as an ‘Intellectual Property address’ as opposed to its correct definition as an ‘Internet Protocol address’. I’m starting to see why this is all so flawed.

Have your say!

Well, despite months of ongoing debate the Digital Economy Bill finally passes into law. What do you think about the final result? Do you also have concerns over the manner in which it was passed through the Commons and the final effectiveness of the Bill? Or do you believe that it will effectively solve the issues of copyright infringement? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

Related Articles

Further Information


4 Responses to “Digital Economy Bill: The end is nigh…”

  1. Hey,

    Just to clarify your bootnote I recieved the original letter yesterday, which spread from reddit: http://meeb.org/post/505849844/i-wrote-to-my-mp-two-weeks-ago-regarding-my-shock

    Intellectual Property Address is mentioned only once!

  2. Hi meeb,

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have updated the article accordingly.

  3. This really worries me. I rely heavily on the Internet in my job and life. But my connection is shared by family members, by friends who come over – I’m never going to always be able to stop my teenage nieces and nephews downloading music. They live in a different world – they don’t think there is anything wrong with it. And yet I pay the bill. So I could have my connection cut off. Madness.

    I read a story today whereby a ISP has offered their customers the option to become a communications provider (at no extra cost) rather than just a subscriber (http://bit.ly/ahWmKB).

    I wonder if Entanet would consider also doing this?

  4. Hi cjp,

    Thank you for your comment. We completely agree that the proposals are ridiculous and unworkable. As stated in our article we feel that the proposals will not achieve their objective of deterring the real villains who will easily circumvent this system and will instead simply punish potentially innocent users. The new legislation will also make it very difficult for restaurants, pubs and hotels to continue to offer access to their wireless networks as they too will be liable for any illegal activity. This punishment, which could see businesses and entire families disconnected from the Internet, hardly seems proportionate to the crime.

    In response to your question about AAISP’s recent comments about a potential loophole in the law that means that a communications provider is not liable but a broadband subscriber is, Entanet currently has no plans to sign up end user customers directly under the guise of a CP. We are a channel focussed provider and only provide broadband services via a network of resale and wholesale partners. Our partners are therefore afforded the rights of a communications provider however we would be unable to extend this to their end users.

    I hope that answers your question and I am sorry we could not be of more help.

Post a Comment