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Verizon denies 'three strikes' policy for DSL, Fios users

Can binging on BitTorrent get you booted from Verizon's Internet service?

A story last week on CNet reported that the New York-based telecom firm was disconnecting DSL and Fios subscribers for ignoring repeated warnings (based on complaints sent to Verizon by copyright holders) that they were uploading songs, movies or games over file-sharing networks.

That policy, writer David Carnoy explained, looked a lot like the "three strikes and you're out" rules that some large content companies have been asking Internet providers to enforce (and which may figure in the ACTA trade deal the United States and other countries are negotiating in secret).

Verizon, one of the country's biggest broadband providers, appears to have adopted an approach to illegal file sharing that sounds very similar to one promoted and pushed heavily by the music industry.

Carnoy's piece quoted Verizon spokeswoman Bobbi Henson as saying that "we've cut some people off" while reporting that most Verizon users had changed their ways after getting one or two warning e-mails (one of which was quoted at the end of the piece).

But by the evening of that day, Verizon had disputed the CNet story's central claim in a blog post that denied "the termination of any Verizon customer's service" for file sharing.

CNet, in turn, posted a follow-up Thursday afternoon that said the San Francisco-based CBS subsidiary "stands behind Carnoy's story" and noted that Verizon's warning letters clearly threaten users with possible disconnection of their service.

I e-mailed Verizon to try to get a grasp on this issue. Henson chalked up the "We've cut some people off" quote as "a misunderstanding" of her words by CNet's reporter.

What I said was that we "could" disconnect someone; not that we have done so. In reality, no one has been disconnected from their service as a result of this program.

Henson added that Verizon itself does not monitor its customers' Internet use for suspected copyright violations (as I thought, but I wanted a direct confirmation of that).

I'd also asked about the apparent lack of any sort of appeals policy in Verizon's frequently-asked-questions file about its copyright-abuse policy, given that its text doesn't seem to acknowledge the possibility that a movie, game or music copyright holder might falsely accuse a Verizon user of file sharing. Henson said that users should call the number listed at the end of that FAQ -- 866-286-6865 -- under the vague heading "I have questions about Copyright Violations on my account."

So it all seems clear enough now: (1) Verizon will forward a movie studio or record label's complaint of copyright infringement to one of its users; (2) it will threaten the user with disconnection in a form letter; (3) it apparently won't carry out that threat. And as long as nobody figures out the third part of that plan, this policy should work to deter people from grabbing a new Hollywood release off BitTorrent or a comparable service.

Hmm.

I can't say I envy Verizon in this position. As the operator of a large and growing TV service, it presumably needs to stay in Hollywood's good graces. But it also needs to retain the trust of the millions of individual subscribers who pay its bills each month -- though if more than a tiny fraction of those millions had more than one other option for high-speed Internet service at home, the company would have a much stronger incentive to adopt a clear, consistent policy presuming its customers' innocence.

If you're a Verizon customer -- better yet, a subscriber who's received one of its nastygrams alleging file-sharing abuses -- what's your read on the news?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 25, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Policy and politics , Telecom  
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Comments

Sounds like a good way to get out of the ETF at least.

Posted by: ah___ | January 25, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Verizon customer here. I don't download illegally so this policy has little effect on me even if they did start blocking people. My only concern if they block people is there should be some quick appeal process to check your computer in case some virus is doing the deed. I don't believe the user should be responsible in this situation, just as I should not be responsible for the crimes of a bank robber who steals and uses my car.

Posted by: prokaryote | January 25, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Instead of empty threats to disconnect, maybe Verizon should charge users extra for repeated visits to Web sites with well-documented file-sharing activity for copyrighted materials? File-sharing sites that promote legitimate activities would have to police themselves to stay off of Verizon's blacklist. I can see the downsides: this policy would conflict with Verizon's policy of not monitoring customer Internet use, and could easily be abused. Still, if you hit violators in the pocketbook, it might be effective.

Posted by: Miles_Standish_Proud | January 25, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Verizon does plenty of monitoring. Recently I received a spoof email purporting to be from a company I know. I called the company and they were very concerned and wanted me to forward it to them so they could investigate. I tried every way I could think of to get it to them including pasted onto a Word document sent as an attachment. It was rejected by Vz as spam every time, the Vz sniffers hit on it.
Sounds like the Napster issue all over again.

Posted by: tbva | January 25, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Everything that the computer users do has been paid for already. Is there a way to use internet without paying for it?

Everything in the internet world is free for those who have the knowledge to obtain them. Besides, internet use has been paid for already. If it's in the internet, it should and must be free. Why not? It's there because the people paid for it.

Look! The movie industries always make big deal of their film earnings. To use "Avatar" as an example, it already made over a billion. And that was possible even with the Claimed piracy by the industries (what piracy?). They make their money and should leave those with ability to obtain them alone and stop being so D'rt B'g Tight Wad.

Posted by: SOCIETY1 | January 27, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I've received two of these emails from Verizon. Verizon says that the IP address associated with your FIOS account downloaded (movie name) at (time, date). One of those times, nobody was home at my house, and the router showed no activity.

Can anyone say IP spoof? Verizon doesn't seem to admit that it's a possibility. Yet my adult children have told me that they know of many free IP spoof programs/services.

We'll see if VZ is telling the truth about not booting someone.

Posted by: honest_jane | January 27, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

This is so typical Verizon. So where does it end? OK, how about this... my bank says I overdrew my account by $5, and it just so happens I did it via online banking using the Verizon network. My bank sends a standard overdraft letter to me, and then has Verizon send me another threatening to shut off my service due to a terms of use violation that occurred between myself and my bank using Verizon's network. Why not? Difference is? Oh, I know, how bout if a web site asked me if I was over 18 and I lied?? That should definitely be grounds for Verizonschtadt to zshut mein service down.

Now, seriously, if you're talking major violations of the law that endanger the safety or well being of the citizens - child pr0n, hacking, scamming, spamming, etc. then yeah, go after em. Shut down the service. No apologies. But I know Verizon, and if left unchecked, what this is going to turn into will be a system where it's absolutely SIMPLE for any random company to send letters (bogus or real) requesting service shutdown, and almost IMPOSSIBLE for Verizon's customers to navigate the kludgey, incomprehensible nightmare hairball of their internal operations to be able to contest the vendor claim of abuse. Expect any call to route from the U.S. to India at least eleven times during any given conversation. Good luck with that. Maybe Verizon should spend more time working on their internal business processes than trying to be the Internet's corporate police.

Posted by: crispyjfc | February 1, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

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