Exiled to Swindon

December 1, 2009

I have rather shied away from coverage of the Digital Economy Bill (DEB) because, as I have indicated to the point of monotony, I don’t think it’s going to become the Digital Economy Act 2010 (the Lords will delay and delay it – so it will never become the DEA, it’s more DOA). In any case, I have lost patience with the unrelenting attempts to caricature it as the Three Strikes Bill (when there is clearly so much more to it) and the exaggerated claims from so many on both sides of that particular argument which do no more than drive waverers into the opposite camp.

But my interest was piqued this week when I saw the views of Lilian Edwards in her excellent {Pangloss blog: http://blogscript.blogspot.com/} on the effect that the three strikes proposals would have on public wifi and open wifi generally. She writes in convincing fashion about the inherent contradictions that arise from attempts to inhibit unlawful use of the Internet while promoting wider public use of free wifi. I won’t attempt to repeat Lilian’s arguments but I do recommend that you read them.

The awful situation in which McDonalds might find themselves gained my sympathy, notwithstanding that I would normally be indifferent to their discomfort (at best) even were they to be flame-grilled. The key to unlocking my sympathy was self-interest. I use public free wifi and I don’t think that my right to a sneaky pint while checking my e-mails should be interfered with, save perhaps in times of war.

Just up the road from me, Swindon is aiming to be the first UK town of substance to offer wifi throughout the town and got lots of national publicity for its move towards Internet Eden. As ever with such freebies, it’s not quite as good as the press releases suggest. There are restrictions and the free element is, understandably, a carrot to draw people in to a premium product; interestingly, it is suggested that visitors will have pay as you go options. Such provision, especially pay as you go, surely offers yet another loophole or two for the Internet user with evil intent to exploit.

But if the provisions do actually bite, the barred may be forced to move to Swindon if they are to exercise their human right to add obscene and insulting comments to a YouTube video (I think it’s in the ECHR, Protocol 34). Where once the area between the Swindon branches of Argos, McDonalds and T K Maxx was described as the chav golden triangle, it could become a refuge for exiled file-sharers.

Unless, of course, the legislation really bites and Swindon follows McDonalds, Starbucks and Wetherspoons in being cut off from the Internet entirely!