Claims made that the Digital Economy Bill will cause the end of public WiFi, as Open Rights Group plans demonstration tomorrow

Proposals to hold WiFi providers liable for actions by those connecting to networks could be the death knell for public access.

David Harrington, regulatory affairs spokesman at CMA, claimed that it was ‘becoming obvious that one of the [Digital Economy] Bill's provisions seems certain to inflict serious damage to the availability of public WiFi access points and thus to an important part of our broadband infrastructure'.

Proposals in the bill make it possible for the provider of WiFi access to be classed as an ISP rather than as a subscriber and therefore subject to the same liabilities as BT or TalkTalk.

Harrington said: "More pubs will move closer to closure, the tourist trade will suffer, coffee bar footfall will decline and those mobile operators now putting their faith in smartphones that can hop between 3G and WiFi networks will find their plans seriously flawed.”

CMA also believes that the bill will impose a significant financial and administrative burden on the smaller operators of wireless services, namely the need to invest in specialist software and/or the need to track clients to computer ports, and to retain client identity details.

Harrington said: “This is all theoretically possible but begs questions relating to ID verification, the retention of data, for how long and in how much detail.

The incidence of suspected infringement is also a factor - a single user obtaining a single MP3 album/film at a library etc will always be very hard to find, whereas repeat offences at the same location by the same user will be more readily identified. But without such clarification the legislation in this area is doomed to be unenforceable.”

It said that the legislation should simply require the ISP to co-operate and support ongoing investigations, without imposing expensive and unworkable restrictions on small WiFi operators that promise not to solve the problem of illicit file downloading, but only to make the ownership or operation of WiFi access unacceptably hazardous.

The Open Rights Group has claimed that more than 10,000 people have written to MPs in less than three days to demand a debate on the bill. Its action will continue with a planned demonstration tomorrow evening opposite Parliament.

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