HOA Corner: Association Provided WiFi and DMCA
Most homeowner’s association boards strive to provide as much value and allow for as many amenities as possible to make their communities more desirable. Association provided wireless Internet (or WiFi) is an increasingly popular choice that many are considering. “When you figure it saves each of our residents $40-$50 per month in Internet service provider charges it was an easy choice for our board”, says Bryce Jones, president of the Washington Manor HOA. “Our owners are ecstatic about the new WiFi we began offering in February.”
Providing wireless Internet can present challenges for HOA boards especially for those with limited technical backgrounds. Others may be concerned with the potential liability that offering such a service may present. HOA’s may be specifically concerned with potential liability associated with residents downloading or sharing copyrighted materials in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These are legitimate concerns but as long as associations become educated about and follow the provisions of the DMCA Safe Harbor clause they will be considered online service providers (OSP) and will be provided some protections. These Safe Harbor provisions essentially protect on-line service providers, who qualify, from claims of copyright infringement resulting from conduct of their users. If the provider qualifies for the Safe Harbor exemption, only the user engaging in the illegal activity will be liable for damage. To qualify as an OSP the association must:
- not be the party illegally transmitting the material
- not maintain a copy of the communication on any association equipment and make sure that equipment is not network accessible to anyone other than anticipated recipients
- the association must adopt a policy regarding copyright infringement, give notice to its users of this policy, and the consequences of repeated infringing activity
Check out this FAQ for more information.
Some other pointers to consider when installing WiFi service:
- Depending upon the technical expertise available, first decide if you want to pursue a do-it-yourself solution or hire a company to install the equipment. Local companies that specialize in this type of service will provide, install and support WiFi equipment for a multi-unit dwelling for fees that typically range from $6-10 per unit per month (excluding the actual Internet connection charges). These companies generally do not require any up-front, out of pocket expense for the association.
- If you do it yourself don’t skimp on the equipment. Install quality, commercial-grade equipment that provides increased security (which will isolate users from each other) and higher power signals than are typically found in home-use equipment. Consider buying equipment that will block peer-to-peer sharing applications (typically used for illegal sharing) or that is capable of logging such activity (so you can comply with the provisions of the Safe Harbor clause that require proof that the association was not the offending party). Some manufacturers to consider are Sonic Wall, Value Point Networks, or Cisco.
- Make sure you provide enough bandwidth for the number of users you anticipate. If the service is too slow, users will be unhappy and your efforts wasted. Small to mid size buildings can get by with one or two high-speed DSL lines where larger buildings may need a more expensive T-1 circuit.
- Avoid providing guest access.
- Once the system is installed (or even before) consider doing a survey of owners to gauge their satisfaction and learn how you can improve the service.
- Consult your attorney about your plans for providing WiFi service, to help you make sure you comply with the DMCA Safe Harbor clause and to help you write a Terms of Service agreement (an example) that you should require owners to sign before allowing access to the service. This article is offered as a guidline for associations considering WiFi and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with your association attorney.