Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Digital Economy Bill and Cornwall's Tourist Industry

Here is the text of an email I posted earlier on Network Cornwall, a county-wide mailing list for businesswomen in Cornwall.

It's about how tourism businesses such as B&Bs, guesthouses and cafés are affected by the 'unintended consequences' of the the new Digital Economy Bill, a hastily rushed-through piece of legislation that will pass into UK law today.

Free Wi-Fi in Cornwall's hotels: could become a thing of the past due to the Digital Economy Act

Hi all,

Do you run a B&B, guesthouse, hotel, cafe or bar in Cornwall that offers Wi-Fi or other internet access to guests as part of your service? If so, please read on about new UK legislation that will affect you.

(If you don't offer internet access to guests, or have no plans to do so, there's no need to read this email.)

Last night Parliament rushed through a new law, the Digital Economy Bill, ahead of the general election. The aim of the law is to clamp down on digital piracy in the UK - which means people who download or share copyrighted material like music, films and TV programmes without paying for them.

Although it has good intentions, the Bill looks set to cause massive problems for people who share their internet connection with others - such as B&Bs and cafes who offer free Wi-Fi to guests.

It obliges your internet service provider to monitor activity on your internet connection and send you warning letters if it looks like copyrighted material has been downloaded or shared on your network.

If you receive three such letters from your ISP, your connection may be slowed down ('throttled') or even suspended temporarily. There is no definition in the law of how long 'temporarily' might be.

This has clear implications for people in the tourist industry who share an internet connection with guests as part of the 'package' offered.

If you allow your guests to use an internet connection that you pay for, and your guests use that connection to download or share copyrighted material (which thousands of people do nowadays, often without even realising it), it is YOU who will be assumed to be the guilty party, YOU who will receive warning letters from your internet service provider, and YOU who may eventually have your internet connection 'temporarily' cut off.

If you want to appeal against the letters, or against the threat of having your connection suspended, as the law stands currently you will have to pay your own court costs to do so.

This is a very ill thought-out piece of legislation that has been rushed through Parliament ahead of the election without proper debate or consideration of the wider implications. You can read more about it, and about how it affects people who share an internet connection with others, here in the Daily Telegraph.

If you have any thoughts about this I would love to hear from you, as I am thinking of writing an article to raise awareness of this issue for Cornwall's tourism industry.

Kind regards,



Mark said...

I work in IT support for a very well known establishment in North Cornwall.
This week I was forced to throttle the connection to a guest's laptop as they were hogging the bandwidth on our guest network. It was fairly obvious they were using some sort of p2p as the traffic was both ways and the room unoccupied.
Were they aware that their computer was doing this as they were intentionally downloading over our complimentary connection, was the program running in the background or worse were they unaware of the activity?
Do I now have to impose conditions on the use of the connection or spend loads of time firewalling anything but email and http access??

Fiona Campbell-Howes said...

Hi Mark, these are extremely valid questions. Under the terms of the new legislation it's the account holder that's liable for any copyright-infringing activity taking place on the network, so as I understand it your establishment is at risk of a) receiving threatening letters and b) having your internet connection throttled or suspended.

Labour MP Tom Watson tried to put in an amendment that would put some protection in place for hotels, libraries, schools, internet cafés and other places that offer public wi-fi, but there wasn't time to get this included in the rush to pass the law.

It's a worrying development and I think it might cause many hospitality businesses to think twice about offering internet access to paying guests.