Internet access everywhere — and that for free? Since the deregulation of the ISM frequency bands for public unlicensed usage, the number of open wi-fi access points has been increasing all over Germany. Already, free internet access is possible in many public places and cafés via wi-fi without further access barriers. WLAN technology provides a realistic possibility for city-wide or rural internet access in the near future — to achieve this goal as many private internet users as possible must open their internet access to everyone. This idea, as well as others, is promoted by the freifunk.net initiative.Today the ‘Digital Neighborhood Help’ provides a meaningful remedy to bridge the ‘digital divide’. In some quarters of Berlin for example and in many regions of the newly-formed federal states of Germany (ex-GDR) DSL is not available.
Individuals who share their wireless with the public can therefore help many other people to gain an inexpensive or gratis access to the internet. The number of individuals who make their own internet access available to others has been steadily increasing.
Both the short term goal of internet access through the Digital Neighborhood Help, as well as the long term goal of ubiquitous access, are now in peril. While other communities and cities in other countries build up open networks, in Germany there is a danger of being bound to only commercial providers. This will lead to Germany falling behind in the information age. Especially problematic here is a verdict lately issued by Hamburg state court (”Landgericht Hamburg”) (reference: 308 O 407 / 06): A woman who opened up her access point for public use was found to be legally responsible for a third party sharing music files over her uplink. In consequence, this verdict places everyone sharing their uplink through an open wifi network in a legal grey area. Who doesn’t close his access point can become an accomplice at any time — even though there should be a differentiation between infrastructure and content. Those who encrypt their networks as demanded by the court — which wouldn’t protect the available devices from abuse anyway — would render public usage impossible. Again, a possible user registration is neither desirable, nor technically reasonable, nor secure.
So, this verdict causes substantial uncertainty among the local population. If the operation of a public access point can result in the owner being sued by the content industry, then the project of a social and open network access in Germany has failed. Then, ‘digitial neighborhood help’ is not permitted any more.
Free networks are fundamental and must persist, if Germany wants to keep pace with the information society. Particularly with regard to the “digital divide”, socially disadvantaged people and rual areas, it is not sufficient to leave this task only to commercial internet service providers.
We therefore demand:
- Legal security in this matter — if necessary by changing the law — which takes into account the special status of non-commercial service providers and which ensures the opportunity to share one’s own wireless internet access in the future.
- putting § 6 TDG und § 7 MDStV to practice, which reads: “service providers are not responsible for 3rd party content which they are transferring over their network or give access to [as long as the transfer is not initiated / originated by them etc.]”
- as well as political support for initiatives like freifunk.net
Or in short: Open networks for Germany too!
* Jürgen Neumann, freifunk.net
* Markus Beckedahl, netzpolitik.org
* Volker Grassmuck, Wizards of OS
* Bob Horvitz, Stichting Open Spectrum
* Armin Medosch, Autor
* Malcolm J. Matson, The OPLAN Foundation