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The Digital Economy Bill will kill wifi hotspots

From by Philip Hunt

The government have written an explanatory document stating how the Digital Economy Bill will work for libraries, universities and wifi hotspots. According to Lilian Edwards, who is professor of internet law at Sheffield University, the Bill is likely to kill wifi hotspots in places like pubs, cafes, and libraries:

"This is going to be a very unfortunate measure for small businesses, particularly in a recession, many of whom are using open free Wi-Fi very effectively as a way to get the punters in," Edwards said.

"Even if they password protect, they then have two options — to pay someone like The Cloud to manage it for them, or take responsibility themselves for becoming an ISP effectively, and keep records for everyone they assign connections to, which is an impossible burden for a small café."

The "explanatory" document is also not very good at explaining what an IP address is:

The Internet Protocol (IP) address is the identifier which allows one node (e.g. user, PC, website etc) on the internet to find another.

Clearly the government has no idea what an IP address actually is, because if they did they wouldn't write such nonsense. Nor do they have much clue about internet technology in general. This is a level of incompetence akin to the minister of transport not knowing what a road, car, or steering wheel is.

Under the DE Bill, entities can be classed as "subscribers" or "ISPs", each of which has different responsibilities. Which would a university be? The government doesn't know:

University WiFi

The relationship between universities and JANET is complex, depends on a number of different variables and there is no one standard model. In some cases it might be that JANET is acting as ISP with the university as a subscriber; in most cases though JANET is acting more as a communications provider and the university itself might be regarded as the ISP. Without examining the situation for each university and their relationship with JANET, it is not possible to say whether JANET is acting as an ISP or not; nor is it clear whether a university is a subscriber, ISP or is simply not in the scope of the Bill. As such, we cannot say simply who the ISP is and who is the subscriber, only that this is something that each university would have to look at and establish for themselves.

As Professor Edwards points out:

"If the government is not clear, how on earth are the universities supposed to respond? This seems almost unprecedented to me, for a government document."