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Dunstone vows to bash Tories on filesharing laws

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TalkTalk boss Charles Dunstone has promised to continue his firm's campaign against laws meant to reduce illegal filesharing under a Conservative government, despite being friend of David Cameron.

Dunstone today hosted a reception within sight of Parliament as part of TalkTalk's "Don't Disconnect Us" campaign, aiming to attract MPs and officials. He told The Register it would continue after the election, denying any political aspect to his firm's attacks on the Digital Economy Bill.

"It's genuinely about the principle," he said, saying that he had not spoken to Cameron, his friend and Oxfordshire neighbour, about the issue. Last year Dunstone was part of Cameron's creative industries review panel and was tipped for a Tory peerage.

He also said he had no idea how much the proposed measures - which as well as suspension of internet access include written warnings and bandwidth restrictions - would cost TalkTalk, the country's second largest ISP.

The Tories support the Digital Economy Bill and have criticised the government for not bringing its disconnections and other sanctions against persistent copyright infringers forward quickly enough.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, attended TalkTalk's reception this morning, where the potential technical, ethical and legal pitfalls of the Digital Economy Bill were argued by groups including Which?, Liberty and the Open Rights Group.

TalkTalk has been by far the most vocal internet industry opponent of the government's plans, most recently scorning Bono's views on filesharing. Although rivals Virgin Media and BT registered their opposition officially during the Department for Business' consultation last year, they have done nothing to match TalkTalk's concerted public campaigning.

Dunstone suggested this relative timidity could be a result of their hopes of becoming paid content providers. He was blunt about TalkTalk's own plans in that area, insisting "it's not our job to sell music".

Amazon and Apple could do a good job of that, he said, strictly walking the traditional ISP line that they are mere conduits. The possibility of new growth by building its own licensed music download service in cooperation with record labels has meanwhile seen Virgin Media, for one, effectively abandon that creed.

Dunstone apparently feels no interest in making friends with the recording industry, charging it had "treated its customers so badly they have effectively gone on strike", and insisting it could never expect some lost revenues to return. He refused to be drawn on whether he had ever participated in illegal filesharing.

The combative tone from TalkTalk at the reception was slightly at odds with the Open Rights Group's more conciliatory approach. The group's executive director Jim Killock said political focus should in fact be on cooperation between ISPs and record labels, rather than on enforcement, to foster more attractive legal download services. It's clear TalkTalk customers won't be offered them.

The Bill itself is currently at the House of Lords committee stage. Killock expressed hope the pile of amendments so far tabled and several stages of debate remaining might delay it until after the election.

Perhaps Dunstone will have a word with Dave then. ®

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