Homeless People Lose Internet Access Over Illegal Downloads

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People living in an encampment for the homeless in Florida have found themselves without Internet access following claims of illegal downloading. The operators of Dignity Village say that after several complaints from their ISP about piracy they had no choice but to stop providing free WiFi to all.

In addition to providing shelter and sanitation facilities for homeless people, Dignity Village in Florida also provided its residents with free WiFi. This resource was invaluable for staying in touch with the outside world, attempting to find work and participate in training.

However, according to Jonathan DeCarmine, operations director of GRACE Marketplace, a non-profit which coordinates homeless services in North Central Florida, residents and visitors no longer have access to the service.

“We were notified by our Internet service provider that there were people downloading things illegally, and if we didn’t put an end to that, they would turn off Internet to the entire property, which would keep us from being able to do business and provide services,” DeCarmine says.

Apparently the illegal downloading continued, as did the complaints. This resulted in the Village feeling under pressure to safeguard its Internet connection.

“We had a couple complaints from our provider and notified everyone, ‘please don’t do this, we’ll end up losing the service,’ and it happened again, so our decision was to disable the Wi-Fi because we would be charged,” Theresa Lowe, executive director of the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, told WUFT.

TorrentFreak contacted Dignity Village for additional details but we are yet to receive a response. However it seems clear that their Internet service provider has received complaints from copyright holders about peer-to-peer file-sharing taking place in the Village.

These notices often contain scary language which suggest that people can be on the hook for $150,000 in statutory damages if file-sharing continues. It’s a terrifying prospect for a homeless shelter trying to make ends meet so one can sympathize with their decision to withdraw WiFi.

That being said, the actions of a minority may have spoiled it for everyone in Dignity Village and there can be no doubt that strongly worded threats from copyright holders have also played their part.

Furthermore, while they are complying with the law, the Village’s ISP should certainly be more sympathetic. While copyright infringement laws apply to all, the ISP should understand that like itself, Dignity Village is effectively a service provider too, albeit one that doesn’t have the resources to effectively police its users.

TF asked Dignity Village which content providers had been sending infringement notices and when we receive a response we’ll update this article accordingly. But in the meantime, here’s some food for thought. There are largely three groups of companies sending notices to Internet service providers in the United States.

The first are the major studios and record labels involved in the so-called “six strikes” scheme. These companies send out large volumes of notices to connections which they claim are entirely residential. However, it’s unclear whether Dignity Village has a business or residential account with its Internet provider.

The second group involves rightsholders that aren’t part of the scheme. These target both residential and business users but do not ask for cash settlements or push aggressively for disconnections. However, these groups are known to pressure ISPs to take action against infringing accounts.

The third group are the copyright trolls, including companies like Rightscorp which not only demands cash but also aggressively seeks Internet account disconnections. Their emails to ISPs are designed to scare and with a recent victory over Cox under their belt, the company is more emboldened than ever.

Either way, all three groups are having a chilling effect on the notion of providing free and open WiFi, with the residents of Dignity Village now feeling the effects most acutely. Let’s not forget too, at this stage these are mere allegations of copyright infringement, no one has been convicted of anything.

Finally, while Dignity Village has to protect itself, the Internet service provider that dares to disconnect its service on a copyright infringement allegation would be a very brave one indeed. Furthermore, the entertainment industry companies making the copyright infringement claims Dignity Village’s ISP would be committing commercial suicide if it pursued any claim against a Village resident.

With that in mind it might well be safe to turn the WiFi back on, but that’s the Village’s decision alone.

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