WASHINGTON--AT&T may be flirting with filters designed to ferret out pirated material on its network, but Verizon Communications isn't interested.
That's the message that company Executive Vice President Tom Tauke delivered during a luncheon discussion at an Internet policy conference here Wednesday.
It's not that Verizon doesn't believe that it's vitally important to protect intellectual property, said Tauke, who heads the company's public affairs, policy, and communications department. Rather, the company is concerned that inspecting individual packets, as rival AT&T is currently testing, poses potential dangers to consumer privacy and opens up a host of other potential watchdog duties that Verizon isn't keen on undertaking.
"From a business perspective, we really don't want to assume the role of being police on the Internet," Tauke, a former Iowa Republican congressman, said in response to a question from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who moderated discussion with the executive. "We are leery of using these technologies on our networks."
The way Tauke sees it, if the expectation develops that Internet service providers will actively police their networks for pirated content, that could morph into other new responsibilities, such as rooting out online pornography or illegal gambling Web sites.
Instead, Verizon prefers the existing legal framework established by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, whereby service providers generally respond to requests that they take down pirated content but aren't obligated to play copyright cop.
The idea of ISPs' filtering traffic, which appears to be growing in popularity in Europe, is controversial for a number of reasons. To some legal experts, it seems contrary to the set-up established by the DMCA, for which many prominent ISPs fought hard. And consumer activists have said it raises serious privacy concerns.
In defending its filter experiment, AT&T has said it's trying to stem the flow of peer-to-peer traffic that clogs its networks and degrades its customers' surfing experiences. And there's clear pressure from some content owners, such as NBC, which have suggested that ISPs that do such policing stand the chance of brokering more favorable deals.
Drawing a smattering of applause from the lunching crowd, Tauke said Verizon's not prepared to join those ranks. "We don't want to get into the business of inspecting the bits and figuring out what is and is not appropriate traffic," he said.