Karoo, the broadband services arm of Hull based telco KCom has been criticised over the last 24 hours for its harsh treatment of those customers accused of engaging in illegal peer-to-peer (p2p) file sharing. The provider has been disconnecting anyone who it has been advised has engaged in such illegal activity, with no advance warning.
What makes this situation worse for consumers in Hull, is KCom's dominance in the market--Most users do not have other options when it comes to broadband with the only alternative being mobile broadband. This means users who are disconnected from the Karoo service may feel they are being held hostage as KCom is reported to be requiring them to sign agreements confirming they will not engage in illegal file sharing before reconnecting them. This of course, is effectively forcing an admission of guilt with no legitimate recourse.
The creative industries have been hit hard by illegal file sharing on the Internet and they are lobbying government to make ISPs responsible. Some have taken action against users, but this makes them unpopular. ISPs are often seen as an easy target as many see them as having the responsibility to police the Internet. The rights holders have lobbied for a 'three strikes' policy.
Stage 1: ISP sends user a letter advising them that they may be engaging in illegal file sharing, and reminding them of the illegal nature of such activity.
Stage 2: If the activity continues, the broadband connection is suspended and the user is contacted with a view to giving them a last chance to mend their ways.
Stage 3: If the illegal activity persists after two earnings, the user's service contract is terminated and they are permanently disconnected.Three Strikes Policy
Karoo seem to have been jumping to Stage 2 by disconnecting a user and then sending them a letter, rather than first issuing a warning. This is at odds with the position taken by other service providers. Virgin Media for example send warning letters to customers, but do not at present terminate connections.
The Digital Britain report discussed various options on curbing such illegal activity and is seeking to force ISPs to take a more responsible stance to police their users' activities. It proposed to make Ofcom responsible for reducing illegal file sharing, and suggests that should a co-operative approach not result in a significant reduction, ISPs should be forced to restrict users' connections, such as slowing them down or implement other kinds of blocking to try and curb the activity. It is expected that ISPs should be not only notifying infringers, but also collecting statistics which may be made available to rights holders on production of a court order.
Do warnings work?
Interestingly, The Digital Britain report suggests that "there is evidence that most people who receive a notification stop unlawful file-sharing". This may be due to the fact that parents may not be aware of the activities of their children online, but it would be wrong to presume this activity is limited to the teenage population. Sharing music illegally has always happened, but the Internet has made it so much easier.
Comments from some rights holders have suggested that their data is never wrong but there are known methods used by p2p network to inject 'fake data' into the system to try and fool systems, so they have to keep up with changes. We are certain that sooner or later, a consumer will be in court having to defend themselves against accusations of illegal activity, with the difficulty of trying to prove a negative, that is to say prove that you didn't do something.
We understand that Karoo have listened to feedback from the media and users and have confirmed their plans to adopt a 'three strikes' policy. This does not of course address the wider issue of how consumers can defend themselves if they find themselves the target of baseless accusations, but that is a more complex issue which is a matter for the industry, consumer groups, rights holders and government to work through together. Well done Karoo!