Ofcom are consulting on a new version of the Digital Economy Act’s ‘Initial Obligations Code’. But Ofcom and the Government have refused to create an exception for wifi providers. This could stifle wifi provision and target individuals unfairly. Now is your chance to tell them why the DEA is still bad news.

Ofcom are running a consultation on a new version of the 'Initial Obligations Code', which sets out how the Act will work in practice. The Open Rights Group and many others have repeatedly told Ofcom and the Government that the Digital Economy Act could stifle wifi provision and see individuals targeted unfairly. But the revised Code, two years in the making, has not addressed some of the key issues. 

Ofcom and the Government have refused to create an exception for wifi providers. As a result, the Code leaves businesses and public bodies that provide wifi facing allegations of copyright infringement and the costs of dealing with the powers of the Act. Libraries, other educational bodies and hospitality businesses have said they may restrict or withdraw wifi provision if this does not change. This is our chance to say why this is a bad idea. Ofcom's revised 'Initial Obligations Code' sets out who is subject to the provisions of the DEA, and who is not. It says, for example, whether those providing access to wifi in public places, like cafes, will have to deal with allegations of copyright infringement.

Wifi providers still don't know whether they will be held liable for the behaviour of their customers. The revised Code does not address their situation directly, leaving them unclear whether they will be considered 'subscribers' (and therefore subject to allegations of copyright infringement) or not. The only way they can avoid this is to convince their ISPs that they are wifi providers. It will be complicated and time-consuming, and not even certain that they can avoid the powers of the Act. This is despite repeated warnings from libraries, businesses and MPs about the precarious position wifi providers are being placed in. 

If you provide open wifi or access to customers - e.g. from a cafe, bar, or hotel - then this Code affects you. It also affects libraries, public bodies and people in shared households or anybody who offers wifi in their home. You could be accused of infringement for something somebody else did on your network - with little chance of a successful appeal.  Wifi is an increasingly important part of the UK's internet infrastructure. The Government should not be putting that at risk so cheaply. 

We think Ofcom should create a carve-out for public bodies and businesses that provide wifi to their customers, to ensure that wifi provision remains as widely available as possible.
Ofcom's site has the full new Code and consultation document. Saskia Walzel from Consumer Focus has written about the detail of the proposals for ORGZine

What can I do?

Two things. First, if you are a wifi provider, or regularly use public wifi, and feel the Code does not do enough to protect wifi provision, then please let Ofcom know.  This is a real opportunity to tell the Government that the DEA still poses a serious risk to the provision of wifi in the UK. If you think you will be affected, respond to the consultation. The deadline is 5pm on Thursday 26th July. Ofcom have given you a few ways to respond. Here's what they say:

  1. "Online: The quickest and simplest way is to complete our online consultation response form. This is ideal for people who have specific brief points to make and/or do not need to attach large documents to their response.
  2. By email: For larger consultation responses - particularly those with supporting charts, tables or other data - please email onlinecopyrightinfringement@ofcom.org.uk attaching your response in Microsoft Word format, together with a consultation coversheet.
  3. By post: Alternatively, you can write to Ofcom. Please address your response to Justin Le Patourel, Head of Online Copyright, Floor 2, Internet Policy Team, Ofcom, Riverside House, 2A Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA. Please enclose a consultation coversheet with your response."

Second, ORG would like to use your stories to help explain to Ofcom the issues with the Code. If you provide wifi to the public and are worried that you might receive allegations of copyright infringement as a result. You can use this form. Let them know your story by the end of this Wednesday (25th July).

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