It's not the ISP's job to police its subscribers' usage patterns – but they could work with the entertainment industry to find practical solutions.
This is according to Matthew Tagg, CEO of Web Africa, who says that a recent spate of warnings to local ADSL users about their digital downloads has rekindled debates around content delivery channels and piracy issues.
Consumers argue that they should have the right to receive content via whatever channel they choose, while media companies highlight threats to the survival of the entertainment industry.
The role of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in these debates is difficult to define, he says. Upstream providers have more scope to enforce piracy laws than bandwidth resellers but, even then, the situation is not straight forward.
ISPs agree that the illegal use of their networks is not acceptable, but suspending and blacklisting subscribers is not necessarily a solution. Upstream ISPs are not incentivised by media companies, and cutting off their revenue stream does not make sound business sense.
"For bandwidth resellers, the current model does not allow for much manoeuvrability from an enforcement perspective," says Tagg. "As a reseller ISP, we do not view ourselves as a voluntary police force for the media industry, and will only take action against a subscriber if required to follow a court order.
"However, while we remain focused first and foremost on our customers, we realise there are tough challenges ahead and are committed to working with the authorities and media companies to find solutions. Increasingly, consumers want content on their terms but are more than happy to pay for it, as evidenced by the success of satellite TV. One option, therefore, is paid-for digital content, which is possibly subscription-based.
"Another approach would be to embed advertising in the content, providing an additional advertising revenue stream, and yet another would be to impose a content tax on ISPs," he says.
"ISPs could provide stats on what was being viewed, and a percentage allocated to that content provider."
The fact is that consumers’ behaviour patterns are evolving, Tagg says. "People want to view content on their terms via a medium that suits them – and it is unlikely that this will change. Rather than focusing their energy on law enforcement and penalisation, there is an opportunity for the entertainment industry to embrace digital developments, forge alliances with ISPs and find business models that work for everyone."