Australia’s Wi-Fi Sharing Economy Fraught With Risk?

Australia’s Wi-Fi Sharing Economy Fraught With Risk?

Getting paid for your unused internet plan data sounds great in theory, but in practice the WiFi sharing economy may not be viable in Australia.

Last week, ABC News reported on a device and service that enables broadband plan account holders to share their Wi-Fi and be paid for it by selling unused data from their monthly quota.

Uber of Wi-Fi in Australia?

The device essentially connects to a home WiFi network and creates a separate network that other users (within range) can then access. Through the accompanying service, the Wi-Fi owner specifies much data they want to share each month.

Under this particular model, it appears the Wi-Fi account owner receives around $3.40 out of the $5 per gigabyte charged by the coordinating service.

It’s certainly an interesting idea, but one that faces a number of potentially significant issues aside from the end-user pricing issue.

ISP Contractual Issues

The first, which is somewhat acknowledged in the report, is the issue of on-selling and ISP contracts. To the best of our knowledge; it’s not just some ISP’s that don’t allow this – many Internet Service Providers expressly forbid it.

If you decide to check your own contract, look for the terms “on-selling” or “reselling”. A quick review of several major Australian ISP’s terms and conditions¬†for their broadband plans revealed this is an activity that could result in termination of services. Sharing WiFi in such a way may also be excluded under “fair use” clauses.

Australian Data Retention Laws

The second major potential issue relates to the Australian Government’s data retention laws, which were fully implemented last year.

The Attorney-General’s department states:

“Service providers that use communications infrastructure in Australia to operate any of their services may be subject to data retention obligations. Service providers include: licenced carriers, carriage service providers and internet service providers.”

In a Wi-Fi sharing scenario, the account holders may be considered a provider as they are supplying a communications service and being paid for it.

While there are some exclusions under Australian data retention laws, such as services supplied within an “immediate circle” or “in the same area” (as defined in the Telecommunications Act), these exclusions don’t apply to internet access services offered to the general public.

If broadband account holders sharing WiFi under such an arrangement are considered to be ISP’s, data retention regulations are quite onerous and require prescribed data to be maintained for a minimum two year period from when it was generated – and properly secured.

Broadband Account Holder Liability

There is also a potential risk the account holder may be held liable for any illegal activities carried out by anyone using the service. Even if it can be proven otherwise, the process could be a headache most would like to avoid.

Impact On Unlimited Data Broadband Plans

Should such a service become quite popular, it could ultimately also threaten the viability and consequently, availability, of unlimited broadband plans that some ISP’s offer if bandwidth demand is heavily impacted as a result.

The Australian taxi industry and ISP sector are very different – it’s possible what Uber did with the former simply will not be able to be repeated with the latter.

Image Credit: BigStock

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