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Policing the web

Internet & broadbandThe Digital Economy Bill has been passed - or at least the third reading of it had by the time we went to press with our June issue.

For the music industry, this means greater powers to clamp down on web users who want to share the audio spoils the internet has to offer. Alarmist reports of how much digital piracy costs the UK economy are mere smokescreens. For the home user, it means increased anxiety.

If you so much as look at a filesharing site, your ISP will soon know about it, using a scary-sounding technology known as deep packet inspection. Depending on their ISP's stance on peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing and internet freedom - and probably on how much it's being leaned on by politicians and interested parties - regular copyright infringers could have their broadband connection strangled, suspended or even cut off.

And suspicions could fall on people who have never been anywhere near LimeWire, BitTorrent, Gnutella or any other site that deals in music and video downloads. TalkTalk has talked up the idea of people with insecure Wi-Fi networks inadvertently allowing neighbours and passers-by to use their web connection to download content they shouldn't. And if you want to be sure your web activities aren't being snooped on and judged, it's worth looking at obfuscation tools.

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To get the best from your connection, you'll need to keep an eye on your data consumption and when most of it occurs: streaming as well as downloading appears to trigger ISPs' warning bells. Your connection may not be cut off, but BT and retail partners such as Plusnet are on public record saying they practice traffic-shaping, and apply bandwidth throttling to heavy-streaming users. This despite the fact that BT continues to tout its best-value broadband package as ideal for BBC iPlayer, music downloads and so on.

Even if we accept ISPs' dislike of heavy downloading (and why should we?), there are other issues arising from the Digital Economy Bill that rankle.

First, of course, is privacy. Traffic-management tools use what we do with our web connections as a means of determining whether or not we get the full web experience we've paid our monthly broadband subscription to enjoy.

Second is the knock-on effect of threatened disconnections. The web is becoming increasingly fundamental to the way we work. We expect to store vital files online, and it won't be long before cloud computing replaces desktop-bound applications entirely. As the tools we compare in our online synching feature suggest, the means for working online are there - we simply need web access to catch up.

Speed up your broadband

But there is some good news for web surfers. Amidst the web-policing gloom, millions of pounds have been spent ensuring we may finally get the 21st-century broadband access that really ought to have been in place long before now. ISPs are readying themselves to roll out some of these services, with 40 megabits per second (Mbps) and faster home connections within spitting distance and at reasonable cost. Looks like we'll have to start policing our own connections a little more stringently to be able to enioy them.

Read all about it in our June issue, on sale today.

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