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.
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?
January 25, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
Categories: Policy and politics , Telecom
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