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ShareMandelson’s mindless meddling infuriates Internet industry

Once again Lord Mandelson has sparked anger amongst ISPs by announcing that the controversial three strikes policy for tackling illegal file sharing will be adopted in the UK by April 2010, despite ongoing criticism from the Internet industry.

Darren Farnden, Marketing Manager

Darren Farnden, Marketing Manager

Speaking at the ‘C&binet Conference‘, Mandelson announced that if the amount of illegal downloading had not dropped by 70% come April 2011 following the introduction of the new proposals (which include bandwidth squeezing and download caps), then further harsh measures including the disconnection of file sharers would be imposed from July 2011. Whilst the use of disconnection is expected to remain a ‘last resort’ measure, the news has once again infuriated the Internet industry.

Since the conception of these proposals Entanet has voiced its concerns and, following Mandelson’s announcement, ISP TalkTalk said that it would “continue to resist any attempts to make it impose technical measures on its customers” and has set up a campaign called “Don’t Disconnect Us” to lobby against the plans.

Like Entanet, TalkTalk is concerned that such legislation will only result in an increase in the number of innocent users being wrongly accused as illegal file sharers hijack other users’ networks and even go underground to hide their illegal activity. TalkTalk recently illustrated just how easy it is for such offenders to hijack innocent users’ poorly secured wireless connections.

ISPs are not the Internet police!

Like most communications and Internet service providers, Entanet strongly believes that simply providing access to the Internet and managing web traffic should not mean that providers are responsible for what that connection is used for. ISPs are not the Internet police!

Asking ISPs to police the Internet is like asking the Highways Agency to take responsibility for all of the accidents that happen on the roads. We are no more able to control how people use their connectivity than someone who builds and maintains roads can control the way in which people drive. All we can do is make sure that the highway is in working order, put reasonable usage policies in place and take appropriate action when it is necessary, merited and most importantly proven. Enforcement of the rules should be the responsibility of an overall governing authority and last resort actions such as disconnection should only be executed once they have been proven in court, with full access to all available evidence.

Of course we can monitor traffic, but doing this takes time, costs money and can potentially impact performance. There is already talk of the introduction of a broadband tax, so any added responsibility for monitoring is ultimately going to hurt ISPs’ and Internet users’ pockets. At a time when the UK needs considerable and continued investment in its network infrastructure, this is unwelcome to say the least. The levels of broadband connectivity that businesses and consumers already enjoy in some economies, such as Japan and Finland, is already much higher with 20 Mbps downloads the standard in most areas.

As we have discussed in our previous articles, disconnecting users is not the answer to the entertainment industry’s problems.  If the entertainment industry took a fresh look at their distribution channels and redeveloped them to catch up with the 21st Century then illegal file sharing would significantly be reduced. The problem is not, as Mandelson and his supporters keep insisting, the Internet and ISPs but is actually a lack of available legal and affordable methods of download.

A cynic might suggest that this is simply an effort by the entertainment industry to perpetuate CD sales for as long as possible and, more crucially, prevent the inevitable break-down of the copyright laws and their enforcement.
In retort, the entertainment industry might well argue that people will go on downloading illegally unless something is done to stop them. This may be true and if it is, what chance do they realistically have of preventing an eventual free-for-all? We in the communications industry know that monitoring and policing Internet traffic is extremely difficult, complex and expensive. With traffic levels continually rising, in the end it may prove to be almost impossible to monitor all traffic.

It is possible that whole networks could go ‘underground’, encoding and encrypting files so that no-one can tell exactly what they are doing and constantly changing their algorithms so that the authorities can’t pin them down.

Another reason the entertainment industry may be pressing so hard on this issue is that their reluctance to evolve could lead to them being cut out of the equation completely. As long ago as 2007, the band Radiohead released their album In Rainbows only on the Internet for a period of almost three months, asking fans who downloaded it to pay them only what they thought it was worth. As a result (and while it is thought that many of those who downloaded it paid nothing), the album generated more income within that three month period than the band’s previous release in 2003 had in total. In Rainbows was subsequently released on CD and went to number-one in the US and the UK charts.

This shows not only that consumers, when they are given the chance, will pay for something voluntarily, but also that the Internet is a potent marketing tool. It is perhaps just a question of finding the right model for your particular type of content. More bands are experimenting along these lines now. Idlewild got their followers to pay for their new release in advance and Ash have recently announced plans to release 26 singles over the course of a year, rather than a complete album.

The writing it seems is on the wall for the entertainment industry and as the examples above show, if they are not willing to evolve and embrace new distribution channels, their artists are. Laying responsibility for managing (and enforcing) the way in which people share music in the lap of ISPs is not the answer.

The Internet is not going to go away and, in fact, if the UK is to remain competitive and efficient as an economy, its development and enhancement needs to be supported and driven forward by all industries. Bandwidth availability will inevitably increase and as it does, the opportunities for obtaining and sharing music, video and all kinds of copyrighted material will increase significantly. The world is changing and the creative industries need to find new ways of distributing content and rewarding the artists who originate and the stakeholders who nurture new talent and help to bring their material to the masses.

Have your say!

What do you think about Lord Mandelson’s latest announcement? Do you agree that the entertainment industry needs to adapt to embrace the new distribution opportunities the Internet brings or do you think ISPs have a responsibility to police their networks? Let us know your views by leaving us a comment below.

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