Internet & broadbandThe promises made by ISPs at the turn of the century that broadband would soon be regarded as no more cutting-edge than running water weren't far off the mark.

There are now 17.8 million broadband lines in the UK, according to recent research by analyst Point Topic, so anyone who wants to get online can do so. Setting aside the fact that a gulf remains in the speeds with which we can access the web in different parts of the country, it seems Britons are more or less happy with the way ISPs are serving them. The results of the PC Advisor Broadband Survey 2009 bear this out, with download speeds the only sticking point in an otherwise positive outlook compared with previous years.

More than 6,500 of you spilled the beans on your ISP. With a high overall satisfaction rate, the UK's broadband service providers have come a long way towards fulfilling the bold promise of high-speed internet access becoming yet another household utility. You can read the results of our Broadband Survey 2009 in the November issue of PC Advisor.

But as we went to press, it was a proposal to stop people accessing the web that was making the headlines. New government guidelines suggested that your ISP would soon be expected to take a bigger role in policing your use of the web, the upshot being that those who download copyright content illegally could have their internet connection blocked completely.

Fair enough, you might think - this is unlikely to affect you if you're an honest member of the online community who's no more likely to download a pirated movie than steal a DVD from a Blockbuster store. But while it's unlikely, it's not impossible.

Details of how the system would work in practice are sketchy, but it's worth pointing out that in most households more than one person uses the web connection. Should your whole family suffer from a broadband ban because your child has been downloading the latest Hollywood films in his/her bedroom?

Furthermore, we've heard plenty of reports of people who claim to have been wrongly accused of illegal filesharing. What if your next-door neighbour has been piggybacking on your (shock, horror) unsecured wireless network, for instance? These are problems that would need resolving before these plans are put into action.

Ultimately, taking such a heavy-handed approach may make the headlines, but it's unlikely to have an impact on hardcore internet pirates - most of whom will find it relatively easy to mask their identity and their activities.

Protecting your rights

Education rather than coercion should be the favoured approach to tackling piracy. Copyright holders once feared that the widespread availability of high-speed internet connections to the home would destroy the music and movie industries. Yet millions of us now buy films on iTunes and listen to the latest tracks via the industry-backed and advertising-supported Spotify.

As we went to press, the UK's biggest ISPs, including BT, Talk Talk and Virgin, were lining up on the side of the consumer - and understandably so. Keeping an eye on subscribers' downloads is not a trivial matter. ISPs can't simply watch out for BitTorrent activity, because such services can be used to legally distribute software. So if an ISP is to watch out for illegal downloads, it may have to keep watch on everything we download. If that happened then the glory days of broadband growth and internet freedom would be well and truly over.

Pick up a copy of the November issue of PC Advisor, on sale today.