On Twitter: @JamesFirth and @s_r_o_c (post feed)

Got a tip? tip@sroc.eu

Thursday, 10 February 2011

UK government acknowledges that Digital Economy Act may keep net access from the poor

... and the DCMS gets confused between a leak and freedom of information...

The explosive revelations are contained in a government response by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to an obscure parliamentary body known as the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee.

The committee met to discuss the Statutory Instrument (SI) that sets out how the cost of running the anti-copyright-infringement measures of the Digital Economy Act will be shared between rights holders and ISPs. I'd already blogged that the European Commission had raised official concerns about this SI.

Responding to a challenge that the measures designed to tackle file sharing of music and films would increase the price of broadband and lead to some consumers being priced-off the internet, the government acknowledged that broadband take-up may be effected by the cost of running the scheme, said this was "regrettable", but they were going to do it anyway: 
The cost imposed on ISPs will increase broadband retail prices for all consumers, leading to low income consumers being priced out of internet access service;
Response (8): the Government has acknowledged that there may be an effect on broadband take-up should ISPs pass on the full cost of the process. This is regrettable, but needs to be balanced against the wider benefit to the UK’s digital economy.
It's simply astonishing that the government can admit, at a time when public libraries and places where internet access is available to low income families are under threat, that they are pushing through legislation that may further limit the number of households that can afford broadband.

More good news for Digital Economy Act campaigners
...and the leak - that wasn't!

The official report, the 21st Report of Session 2010-11 from the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee draws "special attention of the house" to the SI.  This is excellent news for those campaigning against the disproportionate measures contained in the Act. 

The full report is well worth a read as it contains as an appendix the submissions by several bodies including (amongst others) UK Music, Creative Coalition Campaign, British Telecom, Talk Talk, Consumer Focus, barrister Francis Davey and Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

I've highlighted the last two because Francis Davey wrote this blog post based on my "leaking" (note I never used this word in my blog post) of the EC concerns raised on this SI.

In their official submission to the Committee, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport refused to divulge the UK Government's response to the points raised by the EC, citing:
"The communication from the Commission is considered to be confidential, and since the UK Government’s response would essentially reveal the contents of the Commission communication we have not published it."
Then, amazingly, the DCMS refers to my "leak":
"We are aware that a leaked copy of the Commission communication is available, but we do not comment in such circumstances."
Over the past few weeks I've been trying to contact the press offices of BIS, DCMS and Ofcom to get comment on this and other information passed to me.  If only they'd been a bit more helpful they may have asked me a question - about the source of my leak.  Or they could have simply followed me on Twitter, where, after using the #firthyleaks hashtag in my original post, once I had verified the pedigree of the document I then made the source clear:

Freedom of information regulations!  Not the UK's Freedom of Information Act but "Regulation No 1049/2001" of the EC concerning public access to information, and below is the covering letter to prove it.

(Journalists - if I know you I can provide a non-redacted copy).

Surely a quick telephone call from an official within the DCMS to either my blog (contact details above) or the EC would establish this fact?

The only limitation on EC information published under Regulation No 1049/2001 is that it not be used for commercial purposes.  My blog is a news source and makes no money, and I don't think a parliamentary committee would be classed as a commercial venture.



  1. You refer to your site as noncommercial, but you still use a .com domain, implying commerciality.

  2. Dan - IMHO that's nonsense. And even if this blog carried advertising and was a commercial operation I find this revelation very interesting, and certainly in the public interest.

    I think James has the wrong end of the stick even mentioning whether his blog makes any money. If that made a difference, all EU freedom of information requests could never be reported in the mainstream media. Surely that's no way to run a democracy!

    Other than that, this is a fantastic blog.


Comments will be accepted so long as they're on-topic, do not include gratuitous language and do not include personal attacks or libellous assertions.

Comments are the views of the commentator and not necessarily the view of the blog owner.

Comments on newer posts are not normally pre-moderated and the blog owner cannot be held responsible for comments made by 3rd parties.

Requests for comment removal will be considered via the Contact section (above) or email to editorial@slightlyrightofcentre.com.