Ready or Not: Here Comes the Six Strikes Rule

Artist David Jack's drawing of a laptop user at StarbucksTorrentfreak this week confirmed what I’ve been saying for a year or so: it’s about to get a lot harder to find a free public WiFi connection.

After dancing around the details for over a year, the Center for Copyright Information (the industry group set up to oversee the “six strikes” system launching in the US shortly) has confirmed that the rules will also apply to business customers who provide shared or public Wi-Fi. So if you live in a condo or apartment with a shared Internet connection, work in a co-working space with shared Internet or WiFi, or even in an office building that has “guest” WiFi access in conference rooms or public areas, it will affect you.

Don’t be surprised if your local coffee shop, café, bookstore, public library or other “hot spot” suddenly stops offering WiFi (free or paid). In fact, the new system already being rolled out across the U.S. after the original launch last year was delayed by Hurricane Sandy is likely to hit providers of free Wi-Fi first. That’s because, unlike a law, the six strikes system is being run by the ISP industry – and nearly every ISP already has a clause in their terms of use or end-user license agreement that forbids the subscriber from offering free WiFi.

Here’s the phrase from the Verizon agreement required to sign up for the service. Look and you’ll find a similar paragraph in nearly every ISP’s agreement. “You may not provide Internet access to third parties through a wired or wireless connection or use the Service to facilitate public Internet access (such as through a Wi-Fi hotspot).” This clause has been in the agreement for years, but it was seldom enforced. Now, the six strikes policy makes it easy, thanks to software from Mark Monitor (a Thomson Reuters company).

If you’re not familiar with the six strikes system, it’s the anti-piracy system that was originally written to target residential customers who download or watch streaming video that runs afoul of someone’s copyright claim. After six warnings (note: this means after six accusations – not convictions or proved violations – just six accusations), residential customers lose their Internet connection. ISP’s are required to terminate service to customers after six warnings, and once you’re terminated by your ISP, you can’t simply switch to a new carrier – the ban can last up to 2 years.

The six strikes rule has been in effect in New Zealand for over six months now, and overall Internet traffic across the country is down by nearly 40% as people (especially tourists) find it harder and harder to find public WiFi hot spots.  Every country where the six strikes rule has been implemented so far has seen a drop in overall traffic, but Americans have so far seemed oblivious to the looming problem, and may be in for a huge shock as they start to feel the effects over the next few weeks.

The six strikes rule is in essence a way for the industry to get around the massive protests last year that convinced Congress not to pass SOPA and PIPA (two bills that increased the government’s power to punish copyright violators).

But the copyright lobby didn’t let a little thing like failing to get a law passed stop them in their quest for control over how people use the Internet. It convinced the ISP industry that if it didn’t want to face a flood of litigation and crippling demands for the production of records, it had better become part of the draconian solution by enforcing sanctions against Internet users suspected of piracy.

Don’t think the new law will apply to you? Think again. Does your home have a cable modem, FIOS, U-Verse or DSL modem with a built-in WiFi router? Does anyone other than you ever use your Internet connection? Are you accustomed to checking email and working remotely from a cafe, coffee shop, hotel, or airport lounge that offers WiFi? If so, then the new rules will affect you.

And if you pay the bill for an Internet connection, you can find yourself on the receiving end of a six-strikes letter whether you ever watch a TV show on BitTorrent, download a song from a peer file-sharing network, or commit any of the dozens of possible actions that can trigger a six-strikes warning.

That’s because the warnings are issued against an IP address, not a person. So if anyone besides you uses your Internet connection, you can wind up in trouble for their on line behavior.

That’s fine, you think, because no one except your family uses your Internet connection — and you know what they’re doing online?  Are you sure?  If you haven’t secured your home Wi-Fi connection carefully, your neighbors or someone looking for a “drive-by” connection can be accessing your Wi-Fi without your knowledge.

The AT&T U-verse system sent to my house arrived pre-set in “open” mode – allowing someone outside my home to access it.  I never thought about it until I looked out my window one day and saw a strange man in a car sitting on the street in front of my house using his laptop. I checked — sure enough, my Wi-Fi was open, and as soon as I secured it to lock out anyone without a hard-to-figure out password, he drove away.  Do you know how to secure your Wi-Fi?

I share my home with kids and grandkids – some more Internet savvy than others. But the Internet connection is in my name. So if one of them does what kids are prone to do and disregards a rule or two, I could find myself without the means to earn a living since I rely on my Internet connection for my home-based business.

I think it’s time for a family meeting, and another look at the security settings on my home network. Maybe it’s time for one at your house, too.

Illustration credit: Artist David Jack made this illustration available on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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