Rory Cellan-Jones

Hull is heaven... unless you're a file-sharer

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 24 Jul 09, 17:07 GMT

Hull is heaven. That must be what some people in the music and movie industries were thinking this morning. They've been pressing internet service providers to take strong action against illegal file-sharing - with very little success to date.

Then it emerged that a broadband supplier in Hull was going even further than the copyright owners could have hoped. Karoo has been disconnecting people without warning, for offences such as downloading a movie using BitTorrent. Never mind three strikes and you're out - the policy that France has introduced amidst huge controversy and the UK government rejected in its Digital Britain report - this was one strike and you're out.

No other ISP in Britain has gone this far, and when I called the Internet Service Providers' Association they seemed taken aback. Even the music industry body, the BPI, seemed lost for words, merely suggesting that it was up to each firm to decide how to confront this issue. I'd suggested that they might like to relocate their headquarters - and those of the major record labels - to Hull as a gesture of gratitude.

White telephone boxBut, I hear you ask, why don't Karoo's customers will simply up sticks and choose another broadband provider? Well, they can't - Karoo is the only one in town, owned by Kingston Communications, the company with the white phone boxes that has long been an anomaly in the UK's telecoms scene. Kingston has a monopoly, and while in theory other firms could come and share its exchange, they haven't chosen to do so.

Then tonight, there was a U-turn. After a day of publicity, following the excellent reporting of this story by my colleagues at BBC Radio Humberside, the company changed its policy.

"It's evident we have been exceeding the expectations of copyright owners, the media and internet users," said its statement.

So there'll be no more instant disconnections - though customers who ignore three written warnings will still face temporary suspension. That's still a tougher stance than just about any other ISP follows.

So we've seen what happens when one company has monopoly power - it can decide for itself how to operate. But we've also seen how much power angry consumers can wield when they believe that an injustice has been committed.


  • Comment number 1.

    Karoo's original statement said:

    "Unfortunately the online activity by a minority of users can have a detrimental effect on those who are surfing responsibly."

    Clearly, one person violating copyright has no effect on their neighbour, but one person using a lot of bandwidth can do. How much was this really about copyright, and how much was it about booting heavy users off their (overstretched?) network?

  • Comment number 2.

    It's good to see local media networks working together with the BBC technology team for the sake of liberty and the destruction of unpopular corporate policy. I do wonder whether or not Kaboo had informed their customers of this change of policy, and whether or not such a lack of information was due to the financial impossibility of such an effort, or since they didn't want to lose their customers.

    Any barrier to the philosophy of the free network should and will be met with a fall in profits for the ISP that raises that barrier.

  • Comment number 3.

    They where not disconnecting people for breaking copyright. They where disconnecting people because some one had accused them of breaking copyright, this is a very important distinction. So people where loosing there internet connection, for many people now a invaluable resource and for some their main source of income, because of a single unproven accusation.

  • Comment number 4.

    I hope that those who were disconnected can band together and take the ISP to court.

  • Comment number 5.

    What Karoo failed to recognise is that some peoples IPs get pinched and re routed by hakers/illegal downloaders and the like,and that this pulling the plug also pulls the plug on people who do nothing wrong! We had this, our ISP wrote us a letter and said we had been illegally downloading and told us what and when, in fact we were able to prove that we hadn't. The copyright companies proof was laughable, they didn't even get the right town or address for us so the ISP didn't have a leg to stand on. Very glad we don't live in Hull though it makes me 'almost' glad we are with BT!

  • Comment number 6.

    Two questions -

    Were Karoo intelligent enough to look into the file sharing activity, since despite all the huffing and ranting not ALL file sharing is illegal?

    More important though - we have a clear test case for the old argument that this technology is 'killing' the entertainment industry. It's crying out for a proper analysis of how DVD, CD and other sales have been affected in Hull by the absence of file sharing..... of course, I don't think there's a cat in hell's chance of the 'entertainment industry' funding that research, since it's way more likely to prove there was no huge difference in sales and profits for them in Hull compared top the rest of the world, but I wonder what their excuses for avoiding even investigating will be.

  • Comment number 7.

    the fact thet there is a monopoly of phone and broad band services is a bit of a saw spot here in hull. The reson they are able to do this, is that they offer the network to other isp's but do so at a rate that is not viable to a company wanting to buy the services and sell them on. I am personaly happy with the service that they provide me (very reliable)and at a resnoble price. but a choice would be nice as to get the new adsl2 20 meg service i am limeted to 10 gig download and with using xbox lives movie renting service i can get charged for going over and i beleave there other higher pacage they offer to be none competitive. But i would probebly come back. After the horror stories I have hurd and experiences i have had from family out of the hull area i personaly don't file share as i prefure cd's and having something in my hand to play.

  • Comment number 8.

    p.s from what i have lurn't is thet kingston communications is the oldest phone company in the contry and was built and owned by the local council untill more reciently if any one can confirm this it would be nice to know for shure as i would be quite fond of the idear i deal with the longest standing phone company in this contrey. thank you for any time any one puts in to the question

    p.s sorry for the spelling i am dyslexic

  • Comment number 9.


    BT was started up as the British Telegraph Company in 1846; the Telegraph act of 1868 put the control of BT and other various independent telegraph companies to the GPO (General Post Office). In 1981 the post office sold off the BT side of operations and put it on the LSE where it was named "British Telecom Group PLC" and bought out by private investors.

    Kingston Communications was started in 1882 and was floated as a PLC (Publicly Limited Company) in 1999.

    Back to the point in hand: I dont agree with the "We think you done wrong, so we are cutting off your internet access".

    The problem that they have is; say for example: person A has a wireless connection (as many people do), and person B comes along and finds this wireless connection and attempts to gain access to this network (as many people do) depending on the security policy in place on the wireless router person B may just find they cant get in without a WEB key, and go somewhere else.

    Depending on the skill level of Person B, the WEP key could be overcome (the WEP Algorithm has been broken for a number of years; and thus anyone serious on breaking into secured wireless networks just deploys a program to crack the key).

    When person B is actively on the network, they can do what the hell they want, be it download using Bit Torrents, Peer 2 Peer and alike.

    The problem that presents is that, even thought the account holder has done nothing wrong, they are being penalized for something that happened on their network; and the ISP's answer is secure the network.

    But when the WEP Algorithm is flawed, and anyone with even a slight bit of skill can get access to then there isnt really anything that anyone can do. I guess its back to CAT 5 from now on... cant beat the good ol' wire.

    Unless the ISP has proof that is was indeed the account holder then they shouldnt be cutting anybody off, as there are people like me that require the Internet to get work done and get paid!

  • Comment number 10.

    The cutting off of internet access based purely on an accusation is precisely the road the media companies want to go. Quick, easy and no messing around with inconvenient things like court orders or even proof.

    There are currently thousands of totally innocent people being falsely accused of sharing copyrighted material on peer-2-peer in the UK. They have the 'option' of "avoiding a costly legal case" by admitting their guilt and paying £500+. The evidence? An IP address, a reverse DNS lookup and a spreadsheet produced by a company who have been banned across Europe and who refuse to open their methods up to independent scrutiny.

    How long before the same tactics are used by other ISP's?

    Rory. How about doing a article on this? Lots of details can be found at

  • Comment number 11.

    Purely cutting people off on the basis that they use BitTorrent is ridiculous. Whilst this program does get used illegaly, not all the content is restricted. I know many people who have put songs that they have written on and used BitTorrent as a means of distribution. What about Nine Inch Nails' album, the slip. They released it through a Creative Commons license for free and used BitTorrent to distribute it. Therefore, if you were to download this album then you could be cut off despite not breaking any law.

    Perhaps consumers need protecting as well as the large multi-billion dollar media groups.

  • Comment number 12.

    "and the ISP's answer is secure the network"

    I couldn't agree with this more.... ppl need to educate themselves before getting this kind of technology in their houses. at the end of the day the ISP on provides you with the equipment/connection, it is purely your choice how you use it. if you decide not to have a security key (WEP, WPA) or don't no know how to have a secure wi-fi connection you shud be held accountable for misuse of your connection. If however your secure wireless network as been hacked and misused... surely that is a problem for the law.

    "How long before the same tactics are used by other ISP's?"

    ISP's are going to use scare tactics to try and prevent ppl downloading illegal media. but lots of ppl do it and if they banned all these ppl then they would soon find themselves without many customers. and im sure in a recession thats not wot they want. but i suppose you could argue that they also don't want court cases from media companies, so they usually target the ppl who abuse the system.

  • Comment number 13.

    "and the ISP's answer is secure the network"

    I couldn't agree more, either. It is illegal to piggyback on an unsecured network, and you don't have to secure it. You don't have to lock your front door either, and it's illegal for someone to walk in and burgle the place. But if you don't do something about your own security, your insurers won't cover you for your stolen stuff.

    However if you have taken what steps are available to you to secure your network, the ISP is less likely to believe it's been hacked and it must be you doing the downloading. Catch 22.

  • Comment number 14.


    "Purely cutting people off on the basis that they use BitTorrent is ridiculous."

    I dought that is what they where doing what was probley happening was more like this

    1. record/film company finds torrent labled "new record/film" on a website like TPB
    2. they down load it join the swarm download the content and check it is there copyrighted work
    3. they watch the swarm and note down all the ips that join and share and the time they did so
    4. they send letter to ISP saying that an IP assigned to your block did this download
    5. the isp compairs the ip to there records and sends letters/disconnects users

    sevral parts of this would not stand up to a cort of law but on casual examination it looks sound

  • Comment number 15.

    @ 14.

    That is what has been happening with the like of those accused by Davenport Lyons and ACS:LAW.

    All based on an IP address and nothing else.

  • Comment number 16.

    What happened if you used Twitter too much, did they also disconnect you :)

    Seriously though, Rory are you able to shed any light on:
    - how the ISP in question was able to detect that users were downloading "illegal" content VS free content;
    - Were they only targeting Bit-torrent connections, which would seem to be the case;
    - How many accounts were disconnected while this policy was in-force and have they had their accounts re-instated since the u-turn?

  • Comment number 17.

    There may be a few ways in which users may be tracked:

    1)Read mm1145s post #14

    2)Programs such as Bittorrent, Utorrent and Azeurus use specific network ports unless manually changed. These ports can be blocked by your ISP but they can also be scanned so if you were to use these specific ports then the ISPs scanners could theoretically log your IP address and track you down that way, however it would be wrong of them to do this as they could not prove what it is you downloaded

    3)Threaten the site hosting the torrent files with legal action. Many site owners have no back bone and would freely hand over their members list - which usually includes online usernames, ip addresses and possibly a download/upload history in return for immunity from any court cases that may occur

  • Comment number 18.

    Perhaps internet policing has had its dog day, at least for those in a somewhat democratic hi-oath society, like bureaucratic British provinces. However, in the regards of piracy on a small petty-theft level, companies like Karoo and Kingston have taken their decision making a little too far. Yet, they are justified beyond their means. Kingston is a source providing network producing corporation, who specialize in their own naming conventions and the well known TN and TX Proto-based Ethernet technologies. They conform an allegiance to these sub-structured features in both their 'digital internet products' and their 'online services,' because these are sort-of the backbone of their security and their data-flow capabilities. The TX technology is more common than the TN, and is comprised of a Twisted Pair Extra-Net transmission available in today's most common NICs (Network Interface Cards). In addition, Kingston is actually a manufacturer of the DIMM memory module. The two of their technologies, Ethernet and ram, are made to be less vulnerable to viral and corrupted type of files, which is why they are so fixated on keeping a lock and key protection over their OEMs. They are highly adept in the fields of Data storage, as they are associated as one of the ISO 9000 Winners and hold a large array of travel accentuated carry-on devices, such as the DataPak others.

    And as for our company Karoo is concerned, they are associated with large phone, and telecommunication divisions.

    It is no wonder that these places of business want to protect their strong framework from the diminishing on-line pirates. So, maybe they can create a check and balance system. Whereas, instead of persecuting those who steal media by disconnecting them, these companies could offer rewards and incentives to those who try to protect the network. And the no good, wrongdoers can be put off to a separate realm that is unprotected, perhaps...

    In regards to the policing the internet, I don't know!


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