Ohio County Temporarily Cuts Off Free WiFi

Coshocton County, Ohio, offered residents free wireless Internet access in the block surrounding the courthouse. But that free WiFi was shut down last week after a single user illegally downloaded a movie. Sony Pictures notified the county's Internet provider, which then sent a note to the county. Coshocton's free WiFi has been restored — apparently after the county received assurances from Sony that no action would be taken.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And today's Last Word in business is hot spot that was not.

Coshocton County, Ohio, was offering its residents free wireless Internet access on the block surrounding the county courthouse, but that free WiFi was shut down last week after a single user - a single user was found to have illegally downloaded a movie.

Sony Pictures notified the county's Internet provider, which then sent a note to the county's IT director Michael LaVigne.

Mr. MICHAEL LAVIGNE (IT Director, Coshocton County): In the email, it says, disable access to the individual who has engaged in the conduct described above, and terminate any and all accounts that this individual has through you.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Okay. So LaVigne couldn't identify the individual, so he shut down the entire network. It looked like a case of corporate giant squashing efforts to provide Internet access to ordinary citizens.

Mr. LAVIGNE: That was certainly not what we were seeking in this case.

MONTAGNE: Jim Kennedy is with Sony.

Mr. JIM KENNEDY (Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, Sony Pictures Entertainment): In no way would we like citizens to be prohibited from getting access to the Internet. We think it's a great idea when communities are able to offer WiFi service to people in this way, and that's something to be encouraged.

MONTAGNE: The story may be that the county overreacted. Jonathan Zittrain is a law expert at Harvard University.

Professor JONATHAN ZITTRAIN (Law, Harvard Law School; Co-Founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society): It's not at all clear that for somebody running a network, the minute that someone - one of the subscribers is alleged to have done something wrong on it, there's no reason to think the network itself is responsible. In fact, there's plenty of reason to think that the network might be immune from complaint.

INSKEEP: We can tell you that Coshocton's free WiFi have since been restored, apparently, after the county received assurances from Sony that no action would be taken.

And that's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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