Confusing Wi-Fi laws could cause mobile broadband trouble


Out-of-date and confusing Wi-Fi laws are restricting broadband, widening the digital divide and complicating mobile access, according to a UK researcher.

Current laws surrounding Wi-Fi "sharing" need clarification, according to University of East Anglia lecturer Daith Mac Sthigh, in his report "Last Mile: Sharing Internet Access Through Wi-Fi".

In the report Mac Sthigh calls for changes to current laws, which he claims give too much protection to ISPs, at the expense of community Wi-Fi sharing schemes.

"Shared internet access has potential social benefits, but it's harder to encourage people to take part if the legalities are unclear," said Mac Sthigh in a statement.

"Furthermore, local communities trying to use wireless access to extend connectivity have faced objections from established industries that this is anti-competitive or a breach of contract," he added.

Indeed, Wi-Fi could be a key tool in aiding digital inclusion a major part of the Digital Britain plans to bring basic broadband to every UK household.

"Digital inclusion is a government policy and rightly so. People may not have broadband in every road, particularly in rural or isolated areas, and costs of a good connection remain high, so sharing internet access is recognised as a great way of filling in the gaps," said Mac Sthigh.

Smartphones and other portable web devices already flip between mobile connections and Wi-Fi networks, so many people are already using such connectivity when they're left unsecured.

"Many people may be technically breaking the law and would not agree that using an open network should be a criminal offence, and although it's unlikely widespread prosecutions will take place, currently many ISPs restrict your ability to share via their terms and conditions of service," Mac Sthigh said.

"If you've done something to breach these terms it may have consequences further down the line and could be used against you."

The current laws are based on older telecoms regulations designed to battle serious crimes like hacking and fraud, Mac Sthigh noted.

"Malicious hacking and phone fraud should of course continue to be crimes but if Wi-Fi sharing is to be encouraged and properly regulated this is an inappropriate use of the law," he said.

"People have been convicted for using networks without stealing passwords, breaching security or engaging in other antisocial activities."