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AT&T, which lobbied so hard in Brussels to get ‘restrictions' into the Telecoms Package, is now lobbying to keep itself out of the UK's 3-strikes regime. Has AT&T had a change of heart? No.

Such a proposition could give AT& T and Verizon a significant market advantage over   competitors. At the same time, it would put small businesses of all kinds at a serious disadvantage.  The real question is just how much market distortion would it create?

 The American telecoms provider AT&T, and its lobbying partner Verizon, are asking the UK regulator for exclusion from the UK's 3-strikes copyright enforcement regime, which will be implemented under the Digital Economy Act.  In particular, they want an exclusion for "business

communication providers who provision Internet access services to large business customers"  .  This means ISPs who provide services to the large banks and corporate industry, could escape having to implement  3-strikes against any copyright infringement on those networks.  AT&T and Verizon both operate in this corporate sector in the UK.


An element of their justification is that large businesses tend to police their own networks. And they also correctly point out that the rights-holders' proposed method of identifying end-users is the IP address, and this will be  problematic in the corporate network context.


However, there is more to it than that. There is a bitter disagreement emerging between the ISP industry and Ofcom about which ISPs are included or excluded from the Digital Economy  Act copyright enforcement regime.  


Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, is proposing that the DE Act 3-strikes regime only applies to ISPs with more than 400,000 customers. These ISPs are BT, Talk Talk, Virgin Media, Sky, Orange, O2 and the Post Office, which all sell to residential, consumer customers. Thus, there would be an exemption for ISPs with fewer than 400,000 customers - at least for the start of the copyright enforcement regime.  

The 400,000 threshold is already a subject of constrovery among the ISPs, many of whom see it as disproportionate. It is also pointed out that the 400,000 figure is an arbitrary one chosen by Ofcom, and which Ofcom has already said, will be fluid. As customers migrate from the big secen  onto smaller  networks, Ofcom will bring those other networks in.


But there is a separate exclusion for mobile networks, which the fixed line ISPs are fighting. AT&T's demand would create yet another exclusion.


However, the guts of this issue  lie in the division of the market into wholesale and retail ISPs. AT&T and Verizon, in the UK, operate at the wholesale end. They want to be free of the hassle which the 3-strikes regime will create for retail ISPs. Moreover, if, as wholesale ISPs, they are brought within the copyright enforcement regime, they will incur legal aggravation  in terms of customer identification, notification and sanctioning.


Finally,  it would seem that such a proposal will create serious distortions right across the market. And it will leave small businesses at a disadvantage. SMEs tend to buy their Internet services from the big seven  ISPs. They are  too small to buy the  3-strikes-exempt business services from AT&T. This means they could be landed with higher bills and legal overheads,  and potentially losses to their businesses.


The move is especially interesting as it was AT&T who  persuaded the European Parliament's rapporteur, as well as the Council of Ministers, to ensure that EU telecoms law legitimises restrictions on Internet services imposed by broadband provider.


Read the lobbying proposal to the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom,  from AT&T and Verizon , concerning the Digital Economy Act and the Initial Obligations Code. 


 This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) DE Act: AT&T wants to wriggle out of copyright liability 5 September 2010


Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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