Six-strikes rule could slam unauthorized public Wi-Fi

The "six-strikes" Copyright Alert System (CAS) is close to launching, and fallout from the anti-piracy program could shut down some business broadband accounts, including public Wi-Fi hotspots that are not authorized to share their bandwidth but have nonetheless been getting away with it.

The CAS monitors Internet usage to detect "the inadvertent or purposeful unauthorized distribution of copyrighted content through peer-to-peer networks." Owners of networks deemed to violate copyrights will be warned and could have their Internet access throttled or be taken to court.

The system was created by the Center for Copyright Information, which was formed in September 2011 by the Motion Picture Association of American and MPAA members, Recording Industry Association of America and RIAA members, AT&T (NYSE:T), Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ).

Though the plan is aimed primarily at home networks, a leaked document obtained by TorrentFreak indicates that the plan as implemented by Verizon will impact business customers as well. For example, a business that receive five or six warnings because an employee used the company network to distributed copyrighted content could see its Internet connection throttled down to 256 kbps for two to three days.

Ed McFadden, a Verizon spokesman, told Ars Technica that the leaked document was a "working draft" and subject to change. He also said Verizon will distribute information to its customers about the program within the next month.

The CAS program could also impact owners of businesses, such as cafes, offering public Wi-Fi service that could be used by customers to violate CAS rules. However, McFadden said running a Wi-Fi hotspot on its own is a violation of Verizon's terms of service as is. He told Ars Technica that the site's discussion about the potential impact of the CAS on Internet cafes and open hotspots is thus "misleading and inaccurate to the reader on a factual basis."

Similarly, CCI Executive Director Jill Lesser told TorrentFreak that business broadband accounts are already forbidden to share their Internet access with customers. "The terms of service on such accounts do not allow them to be used to provide free Wi-Fi or 'hotspots' so the hypothetical cafe owner offering public Wi-Fi will not be subject to the CAS if they are following their terms of service," she said.

Internet advocates question the premise behind the CAS program. "This does create a scenario that discourages open Wi-Fi, which I think is a problem," Sherwin Siy, the vice president of legal affairs at Public Knowledge, told Ars Technica. "Of course, this is one area where the rightsholders and the ISPs' interests intersect very nicely. Verizon and its competitors want to encourage the number of paid subscribers, and the RIAA and MPAA want to have Internet connections be as identifiable as possible."

For more:
- see this TorrentFreak article
- see this Ars Technica article
- see this Broadband Reports article

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