Are ISPs The Biggest Obstacle to a Three Strikes Law?

With a big push for a three strikes law, many people have a seemingly unlikely ally – ISPs. Yes, it’s the same ISPs that want to throttle users, charge on a usage basis and end network neutrality.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There was an interesting note on Michael Geist’s blog. Rogers was apparently asked about their position on a three strikes law and ACTA in general. Rogers apparently responded saying that they were, like other ISPs, concerned about ACTA. Rogers also appeared to not be happy about the idea of playing traffic cop on the internet. While the minutes of that meeting is currently available, we are still waiting for the transcript to be posted.

Rogers is far from the first ISP to not be a huge fan of a three strikes law or acting as a traffic cop at all and being asked to monitor their own networks. There were instances in the past where AT&T in the US expressed reluctance to implementing a three strikes law. The story was the same in the UK with TalkTalk appearing to be resistant to becoming the internet police.

Why are ISPs so resistant to becoming the internet police? There are plenty of reasons for this and one of those reasons is resources. Resources was one thing that was brought up during the 2005 CRIA vs. Does case in Canada. At the time, AT&T put forth the idea of offloading the cost of searching through their vast networks to help prosecute file-sharers on to rights holders. Rights holders were not thrilled and have since been pushing for copyright reform instead in Canada.

The question then becomes, why can’t rights holders bare the costs to pay for the resources that would be required to police the networks? Simple reason is that they’d rather ISPs carry the cost and resources instead. They want a silver bullet that would magically make file-sharing go away. The problem is that such a silver bullet simply doesn’t exist and even if a solution were found that would impede file-sharing, file-sharing developers would simply find a work-around and continue on as usual. A dead end to say the least.

Little has changed with a three strikes law – rights holders want ISPs to simply carry whatever cost that comes with a three strikes law. Only this time, it’s more of a money issue. What a three strikes law really amounts to is one industry asking another to reduce their revenue in the end. What sane industry would just reduce their revenue stream at the request of another industry anyway? You disconnect internet users, ISPs will make less money on subscriber fees. Not a surprise then why ISPs don’t like the idea of a three strikes law.

Another thing ISPs are faced with is the idea of blocking access to various sites. There are cases where some sites do need to be blocked, but the slippery slope of a problem is, where do you stop? You have rights holders that demand that ISPs block file-sharing, then you have political activists demanding ISPs block their idealogical opponents, then you have companies demanding to block the competition and sooner or later, there won’t be much of an internet left. How is an ISP suppose to sell internet access when everything on the internet is blocked exactly? An internet with everything blocked amounts to snake oil and it’s hard to see how ISPs can sell access to an internet with everything blocked.

At the end of the day, an ISP that opposes a three strikes law is making a business decision – and a logical business decision at that. The last thing an ISP wants is their subscriber base dwindling and if anyone, let alone rights holders, can arbitrarily disconnect users without court oversight of any kind, then it’s impossible to see an internet industry flourishing in any way. How can an ISP increase profits from a subscriber base that went from 1,000,000 to 100,000? Ultimately, ISPs have an obligation to themselves to do everything in their power to stop a three strikes law.

While ACTA and a three strikes regime is a huge threat to online freedoms, it is interesting to know that rights holders have an even steeper hill to climb to get what it wants – if it even makes it at all.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: