Why some ISPs turn against their own customers

Martin Brinkmann
Jun 9, 2008
Updated • Nov 30, 2012
File Sharing, Internet

With the recent announcement that Britain's largest cable Internet Service Provider Virgin Media will start warning its customers, or better the part they suspect to download files without having the proper rights to do so, that they will face prosecution if they do not stop the behavior. Virgin Media calls it educating their customers during a ten week trial campaign but their letters will apparently be accompanied by letters from the British Phonographic Industry that threatens disconnection and court appearance.

Now the interesting question that arises is why they would want to educate their customers. My first assumption would be that they, as a cable provider, want to reduce the average bandwidth usage of their customers in an effort to maximize the profits from their infrastructure. Usually filesharers have a much higher bandwidth demand than the usual Internet user with the exception of video portal junkies maybe.

Reducing the amount of filesharers that are their customers would definitely reduce the bandwidth bill of the ISP. Cable is a shared connection as well which could increase the speed of all customers as well.

The interesting question will be how they will pick the customers that will receive the warnings. Will they actively monitor P2P networks, will they only react when the BPI sends them a list, will they verify those lists ? What about false positives ? Someone who is download music from Jamendo using the Bittorrent protocol. Will he receive a warning as well ? What about secure Usenet connections ? IRC, FTP, file hosts. How the hell will they be able to determine that a file that is being transferred is indeed a copyright violation ? Filenames alone are without doubt not the safest way of determining that. So, how will they do that ?

My second assumption would be that Virgin Media could have some ties with the BPI or a company that is a member of the BPI. I really do not have enough time to research this so if anyone could help me out it would be appreciated.


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  1. Pablo Gavavla said on June 10, 2008 at 3:56 am

    How is writing this poor tolerated by the editors (or readers) of this site?

    If a high school freshman turned this in as a first draft it’d be returned with more red ink than you could shake a stick at.

    PLEASE either hire a copy editor or at least a high school graduate!

    1. Dan O'Neil said on May 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      Pablo, I can’t see much wrong with the writing in this post to be honest…

      As for the article itself… Presumably the ISPs that are most interested in this are the ones who have some interest in the possibility of subscription based music and film sharing. They will surely have many more customers if there are fewer people illegally downloading.

  2. NightFlyer said on June 9, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    not just the UK , I think it’s worldwide to be honest, I know it’s exactly the same here in the US.

  3. Jack said on June 9, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    The problem these days with so many isps is their size. Several years ago, I took out an account with one of one of the best isps in the UK – a small company. Today it’s owned by a multinational, and the service is appalling.

    The point being that a small firm was probably headed by people who knew exactly what they were doing. I doubt if the CEO of a multinational (in fact any of the top 100 staff) know how to change a 3-pin plug let alone understand the technology of broadband internet – it’s just another business to be milked while profitable and discarded when not

    And with the growth of such companies – Virgin, Tiscali, etc – comes a growing disregard for their existing customer base. New sales are all that matter – current customers and their problems (especially their problems) just don’t count. It doesn’t even matter if customers leave – the general public is perceived as so undiscriminating that the loss can be made up after the next bargain-offer TV advert.

    And not just the internet market – in every field of business in the UK these days, there seems to be a break point in the growth of companies at which common sense disappears and spurious ‘market forces’ take over from what used to be regarded as basic business common sense.

  4. NightFlyer said on June 9, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    The only info I can give you would be about 9 years old, at that time I lived in the UK and I can tell you that Richard Branson at that time was the head of the Virgin Empire, that included Virgin Radio and Virgin Records. So my guess is that certainly since he owned a record store chain and a radio station he would have worked closely with the BPI at that time, I’m pretty certain that he no longer owns either (I know Virgin Records is now owned by EMI).

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