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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
April 13, 2010



The threat to pub WiFi

WiFi is a wonderful thing. Especially if itís free. When Iím travelling about itís really useful and civilised to be able to sit down in a pub with my laptop and a pint of beer.

Usually the pub turns out to be a Wetherspoon. In Brighton most pubs seem to have WiFi. I live in Brighton, so thatís not so useful, but itís nice to know itís there.

It seems inevitable to me that we will one day be blanketed in ubiquitous, free internet access, and not think twice about it. But last week Parliament rushed through the Digital Economy Bill.

Itís complicated, and I donít pretend to understand it all, but itís clear this new law poses a threat to public WiFi. In an effort to control illegal downloads the government will force internet service providers to cut off habitual offenders Ė and that means the pub with the WiFi service, not the customer doing the downloading.

There is no way that a pub can police what its customers are up to online, so the possibility is that licensees might avoid the hassle by ceasing to offer whatís become a valuable added service. As someone said, itís more like the No Digital Economy Bill.

Of course, there are worse crimes against humanity going on, but itís rotten that when something good does come along, like WiFi, it might be taken away from you by some clumsy piece of legislation.

That goes for the pubs themselves as well as customers like me. In these difficult times they need to do everything they can to get people through the doors.

The Digital Economy Bill was passed after just two hours debate by 189 votes to 47. That means only about a third of MPs turned up for it, and I have serious doubts about whether most of them can have understood the implications of a 76-page document in such a short discussion.

My only hope is that its enforcement wonít be so straightforward. And that until we know exactly how itís going to play out pubs around the country keep the WiFi switched on.

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