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.
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.”
- The Register: Mandybill: All the Commons drama
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.
- Entanet Opinion: Internet industry unites to condemn amendment 120A
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.
- Entanet opinion: Guilty until proven innocent is wrong approach to file sharing
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?
- ThinkBroadband: Digital Economy Bill passes Lords
- The Register: Tories would scrap 50p broadband tax
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.
- The Open Rights Group: Homepage
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.
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.
- Entanet Opinion: Scoring goals with broadband?
- Entanet Opinion: Internet industry unites to condemn amendment 120A
- Entanet Opinion: Open Rights Group slams the Digital Economy Bill
- Entanet Opinion: Bono – stick to singing!
- Entanet Opinion: Mandelson – New master of the digital economy?
- Entanet Opinion: Mandelson’s mindless meddling infuriates Internet industry
- Entanet Opinion: Guilty until proven innocent is wrong approach to file sharing
- The Register: Mandybill: It ain’t over yet
- The Guardian: Digital economy bill rushed through wash-up in late night session
- Parliament: Digital Economy Bill
- Department for Business & Skills: Digital Britain