Memorandum submitted by the Internet Service
Providers' Association (ISPA)
The Internet Services Providers' Association
(ISPA) UK is the trade association for companies involved in the
provision of Internet Services in the UK. ISPA was founded in
1995, and seeks to actively represent and promote the interests
of businesses involved in all aspects of the UK Internet industry.
ISPA membership includes small, medium and large
Internet service providers (ISPs), cable companies, web design
and hosting companies and a variety of other organisations. ISPA
currently has over 200 members, representing more than 95% of
the UK Internet access market by volume.
ISPA was a founding member of EuroISPA. EuroISPA
is the voice of the EU Internet industry and the largest umbrella
organisation of ISPs globally.
The empowerment and protection of users of our
services is a challenge on which industry works with a range of
stakeholders. This inquiry comes at a time of unprecedented interest
on how users interact with the Internet and how best to equip
them with the skills and tools to do so responsibly and safely.
This is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements
to date and to look ahead to identify any gaps or areas where
this effort can be enhanced to the benefit of young people and
Our response will highlight some of the benefits
and opportunities of the Internet before focusing on the specific
issues regarding the types of content outlined in the terms of
reference. It will further detail some of the initiatives undertaken
by the industry to empower users and manage online content and
The benefits and opportunities for the British
economy are extensive, with the Internet not only benefiting those
directly involved with the industry, but also helping to promote
British goods and services to a worldwide audience. The Internet
can empower small and medium sized companies through enabling
access to world markets. Academic research has concluded that
areas with greater broadband coverage have higher productivity
and employment growth rates.
The value of the telecommunications industry
to the British economy continues to grow. The retail revenue for
broadband and narrowband Internet services is constantly increasing;
Ofcom estimates that it was worth £2.8 billion in 2006, an
increase of 10.9% from 2005. This excludes corporate connections
and also excludes the huge value of the Internet to so many UK
companies that rely on reliable low-cost connection for their
The proliferation of affordable high-speed Broadband
in the UK has led to significant growth in the number of people
regularly accessing the Internet. According to latest figures,
in June 2007 there were just under 15 million residential and
small business Broadband connections in the UK.
The exponential increase in people using the
Internet has been helped by the provision of higher speed connections
at lower costs. ISPA is concerned that a heavy regulatory burden
in this area could significantly increase operational costs for
ISPs and restrict their ability to offer high-speed connections
at low prices.
The Internet has enabled people to experience
extensive social contact and interaction with peers from a number
of different backgrounds and cultures through social networking
websites and instant messaging. Whilst undoubtedly popular with
younger people, the demographic of users of social networking
and user-generated content sites transcends age and gender. People
across society are using the Internet to support causes that they
believe in and discuss moral and political issues.
The Internet dissects social differences in
its benefits to society. Ofcom research from June 2007 shows that
ethnic minority groups in the UK are more likely than average
UK adults to have a Broadband connection and more likely to cite
their children's education as the reason for having the Internet.
The Internet is an extensive resource for people who need information
or support; as an educational tool and support network it is unrivalled.
Service providers build their understanding
of potential risks from a variety of sourcescustomer care
reports, information-sharing with peers and partners, independent
research and in-house user and market research. Measuring risk
is a very inexact science and one that would benefit from some
primary research. There is a shortage of research in this area,
especially with regards to the actual risk to young people and
vulnerable adults, due, in part, to the ethical concerns associated
such research involving young people. ISPA members can, however,
offer a few thoughts from their own experience.
There are four main categories of risk in our
1. Technical and security risks to an individual's
device or network or personal data. These include spam, phishing
attacks and identity theft.
2. Risks to an individual's welfare arising
from the behaviour of another user. These include harassment,
bullying or impersonation and, in the case of children, inappropriate
contact by adults, peer-group bullying or grooming.
3. Risks to an individual arising from their
own behaviour. These include disclosing personal data, posting
personal photographs or video content or actively seeking contact
4. Risks from exposure to content.
Any user is, or can be, exposed to these risks.
Much depends on the behaviour of the individual user, their attitudes
and level of media literacy. The level of risk that a user is
exposed to can further be managed by positive action on their
part (eg: installing technical tools, educating children on safe
surfing or being sensible about how much personal information
they publish online).
The Committee is particularly interested in
the potential risks posted in certain areas. There is a great
deal of speculation about potential risks and what the consequences
of exposure may be but the actual risk posed by certain types
of online content is not well researched or understood. There
is nevertheless good engagement between online stakeholders and
Government in specific areas and the Committee will be aware that
there are a number of initiatives underway which seek to identify
issues which industry and Government can usefully work on together.
The Internet industry is actively engaged in a variety of discussions
in the areas set out in the terms of reference:
Cyberbullying: The DCSF
recently launched a new online campaign, including new guidance
and a short film, aimed at addressing cyberbullying. The campaign
was produced by Childnet International, with whom ISPA has a strong
relationship, in consultation with the DCSF Cyberbullying Taskforce.
The Taskforce contained representatives from a number of ISPA
members, as well as teaching groups, Government departments and
children's charities. Many ISPA members also supported the recent
public awareness campaign and Anti-Bullying Week.
User generated content:
ISPA has been heavily involved in discussions about user-generated
content, in particular how service providers work with users to
remove content which breaches their terms of service and with
public authorities on illegal content. ISPA has most recently
facilitated the organisation of a cross-Whitehall workshop with
industry. The workshop, which will take place at the end of January,
will bring together the relevant industry players with representatives
from several government departments who manage policy areas with
an Internet dimension. This workshop is designed to promote an
understanding about the investments service providers are making
to manage online content and to identify new areas of public policy
where a dialogue with service providers needs to be established.
Personal security: ISPA
supports the Get Safe Online initiative jointly sponsored
by Government and industry. This initiative seeks to educate users
on how to protect themselves online and to make people aware of
the threats to their personal security. ISPA provided written
and oral evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology
Select Committee's inquiry into Personal Internet Security and
continues to facilitate a dialogue between service providers and
the relevant government departments. The market for retail software
to protect users' Internet use continues to thrive.
Hate speech and terrorism:
ISPA has worked closely with Government in a number of areas to
formulate new criminal law and to ensure that it is implemented
in a way which meets the needs of industry and law enforcement.
ISPA has recently worked with the Home Office to draft a process
for ISPs to work effectively with law enforcement in the event
that they are hosting material that is unlawful under the Terrorism
Act (2006). This process formed a model for the ongoing discussions
between ISPA and the Home Office about dealing with material which
breaches the Racial and Religious Hatred Act (2006). Our dialogue
with Government on extremist content continues and ISPA has most
recently coordinated members' input to the Home Office on the
forthcoming summit to discuss future online anti-terrorism measures.
This engagement will continue.
Violence and pornography:
ISPA has contributed to the formulation of new offences in the
Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill for extreme pornography.
ISPA input focuses on technical issues and the practicalities
of implementing and enforcing new offences. The Ministry of Justice
has recently consulted on whether to create a new offence of creating
computer generated images depicting child sexual abuse and ISPA
members are contributing to this policy making process in a similar
Service providers use a range of tools to empower
and inform users of known risks and how to make the most of their
online experience. These include:
Many ISPA members offer a range
of free and chargeable security options and parental controls
to users. This allows users to choose the right tools for them
in a market where there are a variety of options and where consumer
choice is important to many. These include features that allow
users to manage their privacy, tools to manage users' searches
and tools to enhance users' security, such as spam filters and
Acceptable Use Policies (also
and inappropriate use of the Internet and are used to encourage
consumers to behave responsibly online. Consumers who are in breach
of Acceptable Use Policiesincluding unlawful and illegal
material and the use of unsolicited emailcan be warned
by their ISPs or even be banned from using a particular online
service. A member's commitment to Acceptable Use Policies is a
requirement of ISPA's mandatory code of practice, which all members
must adhere to.
ISPA members operate a notice
and take down policy whereby if potentially illegal content is
reported to them, they will investigate and, if appropriate, remove
the content. It is now industry good practice to offer users easy-to-use
mechanisms to report content that may be illegal or a breach of
their terms of service.
Most ISPA members provide detailed
guidance to adults, young people and children about how to stay
safe online. The sheer volume of information available may be
confusing to some consumers but we are, however, seeing trusted
sources of information emerging which ISPA members promote to
their users. Information produced by the major child protection
charities is widely promoted by many ISPs. Members have attempted
to ensure that their message is received by working with third
party information providers with credibility and authority among
the target audience. ISPA is actively engaged in the Byron Review,
which is looking at the proliferation of safety information and
how it could be presented better so that parents and children
can engage with it more easily. ISPA welcomes this initiative.
ISPA further notes that technology evolves quickly
and that new solutions and user tools are under development. These
include e-moderation and parental monitoring tools. We acknowledge
that competition within the market place is an important incentive
for developers to invest in new technology. Where solutions show
promise and are compatible with their network and products, individual
service providers do run trials and may decide to adopt one or
more to complement their own security and safety strategy.
It is important to note, however, that ISPA
does not seek to influence this market by endorsing one solution
over another or support calls for providers to be mandated to
provide certain security and safety tools to users. There is a
concern that this could both distort the market and disempower
users who do not wish to activate certain tools (eg parental controls
if they have no children). For this reason, attention is focused
on raising awareness of the importance of technical tools and
encouraging users to actively consider options to protect themselves
and their children.
There is much speculation about whether or not
the existing legal framework is sufficiently robust to deal with
the new challenges that are the focus of recent concerns. Each
issue that forms this debate is very complex and needs to be considered
on a case-by-case basis. This includes a discussion about the
appropriate balance between formal regulation/industry self-regulation
and responsibilities of the state, and the balance between law/regulation
and freedom of speech. The Byron Review, for example, is considering
the effectiveness of existing legal provisions and ISPA members
are actively engaged in discussions with Dr Byron and her team
about whether improvements are needed. The DCMS and Ofcom are
separately looking at the implementation of the AVMS Directive,
which raises some issues pertinent to the Committee's inquiry.
The Government periodically reviews the legal
framework and brings forward proposals where it considers formal
legislation to be the most appropriate means to give effect to
Government policy. Where a concern touches the boundaries between
freedom of expression and the public interest, it is entirely
appropriate that it is debated in Parliament and that Parliament
decides where the line between an individual's freedom and criminal
law should be drawn. The Home Office Task Force on Child Protection
and the Subgroup on Criminal Law in particular provides an effective
channel for industry, police and other stakeholders to share thoughts
on such matters with respect to child protection and the criminal
law. The aforementioned proposals to introduce new offences for
Extreme Pornography and computer-generated images of child abuse
are a product of such discussions.
Industry self-regulation can be effective in
some areas, such as the formation of the IWF, which has succeeded
in reducing images of child sexual abuse hosted in the UK to below
1% in 2003, down from 18% in 1997. The agreed set of best practice
principles on content labelling, which was coordinated by the
Broadband Stakeholder Group, is a further example of the Internet
industry's commitment to improving safety through self-regulation
and good practice. We must be mindful, however, that while industry
self-regulation has achieved a great deal, it may not be appropriate
in all cases.
ISPA is an active stakeholder in this debate
and remains committed to continuing its engagement with Government
about the issues that concern customers and the general public.
This is a complex issue that requires an informed and careful
debate. It touches on a range of very sensitive policy areas and
fundamental freedoms on which policy stakeholders and the general
public hold strong views.
It is also important to remember the wider context
in which we formulate new policy in this area. Discussions in
the UK do not take place in isolation. Many Internet services
have a global reach and attract users from around the world. They
can also be based in other countries but have UK citizens as their
customers. This presents practical and legal challenges when designing
an appropriate policy response in the UK context.
As mentioned above, ISPA has facilitated a cross-Whitehall
dialogue with BERR in order to foster joined-up thinking within
Government on this issue. ISPA feels this is the right starting
point and will set the tone for a positive and open discussion.
2 Lehr, Osorio, Gillet and Sirbu, Measuring Broadband's
economic impact (Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2005). Back
Ofcom, The UK Communications Market 2007 (Ofcom 2007) p
Ofcom, Communications Market Special Report (Ofcom 2007)
p 2. Back