Do you need a licence for your Wi-Fi provision?

Claims that providing an unregulated Wi-Fi service could leave clubs open for hefty fines are currently being circulated and some companies have been offering ‘piece of mind’ at a price.

In most clubs there is now an increasing demand for Wi-Fi services to be made available for members and visitors and most are understandably keen to meet that demand. However, whilst there are a number of key areas of legal compliance, which Wi-Fi providers should understand, it would appear that the risk of prosecution is remote.

The pertinent regulations in force regarding the provision of Wi-Fi are the Data Protection Act 1998, the Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 and the Digital Economy Act 2010.

The DPA 1998 tasks businesses to protect the security of all personal data they process with penalties for non-compliance, however most clubs will not retain any personal data from those using their Wi-Fi and should not fall foul of the Act.

The DRR 2009 places obligations on “public communications providers”, which appears to include Wi-Fi providers, to retain certain user data (ISP Address, etc., generated or processed in the UK) for 12 months from the date of the communication in question. However, the Regulations will only apply if a provider receives notice in writing from the Secretary of State; therefore it is unlikely that clubs will have to comply.

The DEA 2010, amongst other things, inserts amendments into the Communications Act 2003 which places initial obligations upon “Internet Service Providers” (ISPs) aimed at tackling online copyright infringement. In June 2012, Ofcom published a  revised draft code to underpin the initial obligations of ISPs introduced by the DEA 2010. In an interim statement Ofcom made it clear that Wi-Fi providers would initially be outside the scope of the code, which would only apply to ISPs with over 400,000 subscribers in the UK.

Ofcom have, however, stated that they will consider extending the coverage of the code if they deem it to be necessary. This is therefore something that could affect clubs providing Wi-Fi in the future and makes it likely that regulation will continue to increase.

Whilst the information above suggests that the scare tactics of those offering ‘regulated Wi-Fi’ are deliberately designed to mislead; it should be noted that, by making an internet connection available to members and visitors, clubs have little or no control over what is accessed online. This could expose them to potential liability if material is illegally downloaded by users via their connection. To minimise such liability clubs are advised to clearly demonstrate that they have taken steps to try to prevent copyright infringement by ensuring that users register to use their service and that they impose clear terms and conditions on users.



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